What Does Electability Mean to Voters?

 

Read the memo here, and the blog post here.

The “electability” question has been a popular topic in recent months, often linked with “likeability” and occasionally measured in hypothetical beers. For the 2020 pundit class, electability seems to be just another gendered code word.

Our new research shows that likely 2020 voters are hearing the media’s sexism – and largely ignoring it. An overwhelming majority of voters reject the idea that America isn’t ready to elect a female president.

Key Takeaways:

 

1. To voters, electability is about empathy, toughness, and substance.

  • Having a deep understanding of the challenges Americans face is the single biggest indicator of electability to voters. A strong debate showing, evidence of being able to go toe-to-toe against the opposition, and well-thought out policy proposals are close behind.
  • For Democratic and Independent voters, debate performance and policy chops are on par with understanding challenges and going toe-to-toe with the opposing candidate.

2.  By contrast, few voters consider the “beer test” or fundraising advantages when determining electability.

  • Some of pundits’ favorite markers of electability – social affability and fundraising prowess – do not factor into many voters’ evaluations of which candidates they believe can win the White House.
  • While news stories continue to be written about how likeable different candidates are, voters are looking more to candidates who get them and get their lives.
  • While we saw ‘deep understanding of the challenges that average Americans face’ as the strongest indicator of electability, ‘someone you could get a drink or coffee with’ fell to the bottom tier.

3. More than half of voters have heard the media talk about how women candidates are unelectable…

  • 56% say they’ve heard the media talk about women candidates being unelectable
  • Though of course, 75% also heard them say the current President is unelectable

4. …But about 8 in 10 voters reject the idea that the country isn’t ready to elect a female president.

  • Voters look at the last few years and overwhelmingly conclude that we shouldn’t listen to people who think they can predict which types of candidates are electable. When asked which they agree with more about what the last several years in America have shown us:
    • 78% say “We can’t predict what types of candidates are actually electable and shouldn’t listen to people who say we can”
    • Just 22% say “The country just isn’t ready to elect a female president and that’s not going to change in the next two years”
  • Among Democratic primary voters, 81% agree that “We can’t predict what types of candidates are actually electable and shouldn’t listen to people who say we can”

5. Our research did reveal one way Democrats and Republicans are alike: both are more likely to think it’s important to appeal to swing voters than the base.

  • 35% of Democrats and 35% of Republicans say that “sharing the same views as the activists or ‘base’ of their party” makes a candidate much more likely to win a presidential election.
  • But almost half (47% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans) say that having the most appeal with general election swing voters makes a candidate much more likely to win.

For this report Benenson Strategy Group conducted an online survey with 800 likely 2020 voters from July 10-15, 2019. Full data report available here.

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