Poll: Voters Prioritize Political Experience, Moderate Stances

(CN) – Most American voters prefer a presidential candidate with political experience and a more moderate stance on the issues, according to a poll released Monday.

The Monmouth University Poll examined and compared several key attributes voters tend to prioritize in an ideal presidential candidate. The poll found candidates with a strong political background who don’t drift too far left or right on the ideological spectrum are preferred by a majority of registered voters.

From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question during a Democratic presidential primary debate. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Nearly 60% of voters prefer a candidate with political experience, while just 35% seek a candidate with experience outside the traditional political arena. When comparing ideologies, voters tended to lean toward more middle-of-the-road candidates, with 59% preferring an ideological moderate over a conservative and 60% preferring a moderate over a progressive.

Voters preferences become divided, however, on whether political experience or political identity are more important. Forty-eight percent of voters said a moderate candidate is a priority while 43% selected a candidate with political experience.

The poll finds that when examining voter preferences, around half of American voters are “ideological voters” who consider the ideological stance of a presidential candidate more than anything else.  These voters are nearly equally divided between conservative, progressive and moderate ideologies.

A quarter of the respondents say a candidate’s political history is their most important issue, with most favoring politically experienced candidates as opposed to political outsiders.

Nearly another quarter have no single preference or priority when looking at presidential candidates and do not fall within the traditional voting blocs.

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, suggests the findings further show that voter preferences are not as straightforward or one-dimensional as many assume.

“We have a tendency to talk about the vote choice along just one dimension,” Murray said with the release of the poll. “Yes, many voters value ideology over other considerations, but quite a few are looking primarily at political pedigree to make their decision. And still others give equal weight to both dimensions. We really need to take this complexity into account before we try to slot voters and candidates into one-dimensional lanes.”

The poll found voter party affiliation helps to dictate preference when it comes to their views on presidential candidates.

Data suggest Republicans and those who lean Republican tend to prioritize ideological stances, with most preferring more conservative candidates. Only about a fifth of Republicans prioritize political background over ideology, and those that do care more about a candidate’s résumé are more likely to support a political outsider.

Democrats have much different priorities. Nearly a third of Democrats and those who lean Democrat say they prefer a progressive candidate above all else, while another 28% say they are more likely to support candidates with political experience. Only 2% of Democrats say they are looking for a political outsider.

Independents, as has often been the case, tend to support moderate presidential candidates and around a quarter of independents prefer a candidate with political experience.

Murray suggests these numbers indicate how voters are looking to gauge different presidential candidates and are potential responses to the election of President Donald Trump.

“Some voters choose the candidate’s political background as the highest priority in their ballot decision, but experience voters end up aligning with Democrats while outsider voters fall into the Republican camp. This is probably a byproduct of who sits in the Oval Office right now,” said Murray.

The poll found voter preferences play a crucial role in who voters are supporting in the 2020 presidential election.

Among Democrats and those who lean Democrat, 44% of voters who prioritize political experience support former Vice President Joe Biden. Voters who prioritize progressive candidates, meanwhile, tend to support the more progressive Democratic candidates: 43% support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and 25% are behind Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Voters who prefer moderate candidates favor Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 23% and 14%, respectively.

On the Republican side, an overwhelming majority of voters who prioritize conservatism and prefer an outsider candidate say they support Trump’s reelection bid.

The poll surveyed 838 registered voters and has a 3.4% margin of error.

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