For Sanders and Clinton, It’s Likeability vs. Leadership — and Leadership Wins

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came up short in a bid to upset his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in New York’s presidential primary Tuesday, and new data about why voters support certain candidates gives us a glimpse why. For Democratic candidates, it comes down to likeability versus leadership.

Reputation Institute’s Presidential RepTrak® survey of 2,499 respondents from the U.S. general public seeks to dig deeper than traditional polls, going beyond discovering which candidate voters support to examine why voters support a particular candidate.

The monthly study evaluates the U.S. general public’s perceptions of the candidates’ platforms across seven reputational dimensions: economic growth, national security, education and innovation, global relations, health and wellness, social investment and executive leadership.

The results for April showed that, for Democratic candidates, the U.S. public sees executive leadership, driving economic growth and social investment as the most important parts of a candidate’s platform. And while voters in general perceive Sanders as stronger on economic growth and social investment, Clinton’s perceived executive leadership gives her the edge overall.

In the presidential race, the candidate’s perceived ability to lead and deliver on economic and social issues trumps the candidate’s likeability. Because Clinton leads in the most important aspects of a candidate’s platform—especially leadership—she in turn enjoys higher support and loyalty. When we asked Democratic respondents if they would vote for a Democratic candidate, 64 percent of them strongly agreed they would vote for Clinton, while only 45 percent said the same for Sanders.

We saw this play out in New York on Tuesday. Though Sanders entered the primary with a higher RepTrak® Pulse score (63.4), representing his overall likeability among New Yorkers, than Clinton (54.6), he trailed on the dimension of executive leadership, 61.2 to Clinton’s 63.5. Clinton ultimately emerged victorious in her adopted home state, winning 57.9 percent of the primary vote.

Among Democrats nationally, Sanders also enjoys a slight edge over Clinton on overall likeability, with a Pulse score of 66.5 to Clinton’s 65.2. Sanders also leads on the dimensions of education and innovation and health and wellness among Democrats nationally, but Clinton enjoys a nine-point lead on executive leadership and smaller leads in all other dimensions.

[ Note: This blog post first appeared on The Huffington Post Blog ]