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Campaigns Get Lower Scores From Americans Grading 2012 Presidential Race

November 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Following the 2012 presidential campaign, the Pew Research Center surveyed 1,200 voters to grade the performance of the candidates and the media and to assess public opinion on the outcome. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Pew Research Center's Andy Kohut about the poll results, which show voters were largely pessimistic.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And for a very different look at the election results, the NewsHour has teamed up with the Pew Research Center for a new quiz that helps you grade many facets of the 2012 presidential contest.

Hari Sreenivasan sat down with Andrew Kohut recently to outline the quiz and Pew’s research into Americans’ attitudes after the president won reelection.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Welcome back, Andy.

So there seems to be this overarching theme of pessimism from the electorate in your poll, in your research after the weekend. They’re not happy about the candidate, not happy about bipartisanship, and they give the press pretty low grades as well.

ANDREW KOHUT,PewResearchCenter: Very negative about the campaign and very gloomy about the prospect for politics going forward.

We have been doing this since 1988. The weekend after the election, we question voters, how do you feel about what you have just experienced?

And this is not a good one; 51 percent said they was less discussion of issues. Four years ago, just 34 percent said that; 68 percent said that it was more negative than usual, compared to 54 percent four years ago.

And then we asked — we asked the voters to give the players grades. Each player got lower grades this year than four years ago. Obama got a C-plus. He got a B four years ago. Romney got a C. McCain got a C-plus. The press got a lower grade.

The voters gave themselves a lower grade. Last — four years ago, they gave themselves a B. This year, they gave themselves just a C.

Now, part of that is partisanship, because it was mostly the Republicans who had a lower opinion of how the voters performed, but, nonetheless, it fits with a very negative take on this campaign.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, there is also this underlying tension between the diminishing hope in the electorate and an increase in anger.

ANDREW KOHUT: Yes, I mean, there is no question about it.

There’s a public who says, we would like to see — 67 percent saying we would like to see Republicans work with Obama and make some compromise, and we find 72 percent saying that they want to see Obama make some compromises with Republicans.

But then we ask people, what do you expect? And they don’t expect any — a majority say, we don’t expect things to get better, and 14 percent say they expect it to get worse.

So you have two-thirds with a negative outlook. And part of it has to do with opinions of voters themselves. Republicans — only 46 percent of Republicans, the base, wants the Republican leaders to compromise with Obama. The Democrats are a little bit better, 54 percent. But, still, only 54 percent of the Democrats say Obama should compromise with the Republicans.

So there is this tension between wanting something to succeed, and this inherent polarization that we have been tracking for so long and measuring in our polls.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Does that make it more difficult when we talk about these negotiations for the fiscal cliff, when both parties are going to be able to say, hey, listen, my voters don’t want me to back down on this, they are digging their heels in?

ANDREW KOHUT: It may well be. And in a separate poll that we did this week, we found 51 percent of the public thinking that there’s not likely — this is not likely to be successful this year.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So let’s shift slightly.

There was a tremendous amount of users that were coming — I should say audience members — that were coming to our Web site. And we weren’t alone in that.

Your poll says, that, what was it 27 percent of the folks on election night were doing it on more than one screen, not just TV?

ANDREW KOHUT: Yes, 27 percent used two screens or at some point looked at two different screens, maybe not simultaneously.

And the percentage of people who said they got news about the campaign by the Internet just went up once again, 21 percent in ’04, 36 percent four years ago, 47 percent this year. It has clearly passed newspapers. It’s clearly passed radio.

And it’s beginning to challenge television. Television is only at 67 percent, and there’s no growth there in those numbers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, this gives us and opportunity to talk about an interesting quiz that PewCenter and the NewsHour put out earlier. And we have got sort of part two.

So all of this data that you have compiled, now our Web audience can go ahead and compare themselves by answering those exact same questions, right?

ANDREW KOHUT: Yes, they can. They can go on and grade the campaign and see how their grades compare with all voters, how they compare with Romney voters and Obama voters.

They can see if they liked the debates as much as everyone else did. That’s the one positive thing that stands out.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

ANDREW KOHUT: And they can register their — or express their opinions about what is to come, whether there will be some progress, some political progress, and compare their outlook with the outlook of voters that we have polled.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, the first part that we launched earlier in this election cycle, it’s been fairly successful. A lot of people took those — they took those 12 questions or so that you have been asking for dozens of years and compared themselves against where they exactly are in that political spectrum.

ANDREW KOHUT: We found — I think we are approaching 1.4 million people who have taken this test since I think we put it up in late September.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

And, finally, you made a little bit of news this week. You are changing your roll at Pew. What does that mean?

ANDREW KOHUT: It means I will no longer be president and chief executive. I am going to be founding director. It sounds very aged, but that is what it is.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDREW KOHUT: And I am going to work on politics and global attitudes. So I am not disappearing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Andy Kohut, thanks so much for joining us.

ANDREW KOHUT: You’re welcome, Hari.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as Hari and Andy said, you can take both the election report card quiz and the political party I.D. quiz on our Web site. You can see how you compare to voters around the country, and share your results with your friends.