When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became their party’s nominee, each faced the challenge of uniting their party behind them. How have the presidential hopefuls unified their party? The most effective argument so far has been that voters should not support the other candidate. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, “negative voting,” or voting “against” a candidate rather than “for” a candidate, is much higher this year than at this point in 2008, the last cycle without an incumbent president on the ballot.
In August 2008, 35% of John McCain voters told Pew their vote was “against Barack Obama,” while 59% said their vote was “for McCain.” In August 2016, 53% of Trump voters described their vote as “against Clinton” (up 18 points from 2008), compared to 44% who said their vote is “for Trump” (down 15 points from 2008). Looking at the Democrats, in August 2008, 25% of Obama voters said their vote was “against McCain,” while 68% said their vote was “for Obama.” In August 2016, 46% of Clinton voters said their vote is “against Trump” (up 21 points from 2008), while 53% said their vote will be one “for Clinton” (down 15 points from 2008).
Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Trump can rely solely on their own partisans voting “against” the other candidate. Undecided swing voters and lower propensity voters will be more likely to turn out on Election Day if they are voting “for” someone, rather than simply “against” someone. If the candidates want their voters to show up on November 8, they should give voters reasons to support them, not just arguments against the other candidate.