Partisans more likely to see O.J. Simpson favorably than the other candidate

It is not news that the candidates whom the major parties are all but certain to have on the presidential ballot in November are broadly unpopular. In YouGov’s most recent polling conducted for the Economist, President Biden is viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of respondents, while former president Donald Trump is viewed unfavorably by 56 percent.

For the sake of comparison, 80 percent of Democrats view Trump very unfavorably, about the same extent to which Republicans view Biden very unfavorably. In each case, partisans were significantly more likely to view the other party’s candidate unfavorably than they were to view O.J. Simpson — a man accused (and acquitted) of nearly decapitating his ex-wife, among other things — very unfavorably.

Besides the Simpson component, this two-unpopular-candidates scenario is no longer novel. It was similarly the case in 2016 and, like then it means that some portion of each candidate’s support includes people who incongruously view their preferred candidate unfavorably.

Curious about the extent of that incongruity, I reached out to YouGov for their polling in the past three presidential contests, each of which has featured Trump. In April 2020, the then-president was viewed quite positively by his own supporters, in part because he was seeing an approval boost from his initial response to the coronavirus pandemic. (That’s obvious from the “very favorable” percentage he enjoyed from his supporters at that point, too.) Other than that, at least 1 in 10 supporters of each major-party candidate has said in April that they viewed their own candidate unfavorably.

The extent to which Trump and Biden are viewed unfavorably by their own supporters in 2024 is more modest than was the case for Trump and Hillary Clinton in April 2016. Then, nearly a fifth of each candidate’s supporters viewed them unfavorably. Relatedly, supporters of Trump and Biden are now also a bit more likely to view the other party’s presumptive nominee very unfavorably — in part because the major-party candidates have established track records as president.

This prompts an obvious question, though: Why would you vote for a candidate you view unfavorably? The answer, in many cases, is simply that the voter dislikes the other candidate more. YouGov’s most recent data shows that a third of those who say they plan to vote for Trump are doing so mostly as a vote against Biden’s candidacy. A majority of Biden’s supporters say their vote is meant to block Trump.

How Simpson would have fared as a presidential candidate this year is a question that will necessarily be left unanswered.

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