Competent, a fighter, good. Old, out of touch, disingenuous. And, of course: who’s that?
As the 2020 campaign intensifies, a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked Americans to say what word or phrase comes to mind when they think of the top candidates, including incumbent President Donald Trump.
Each received both positive and negative responses; In some cases, a sizable share didn’t know enough about the candidate to give a description.
Here’s a look at how Americans characterized the contenders:
Many Americans think of the former vice president’s job when asked about Joe Biden, but one response ranked above all others: He’s “old.” Sixteen percent of those thinking of a phrase to describe Biden mention his age, including comparable shares of Democrats and Republicans.
One 34-year-old Democrat said he is “living in the past,” and others called him “past his prime.”
About 1 in 10 either identify him as former vice president or think of former President Barack Obama. Biden has spent much of the campaign drawing on his connection to the first African American president.
Another 5% criticize his intellect or speaking skills, like calling him “bumbling,” as one 78-year-old did, or mentioning gaffes.
Still, about 2 in 10 speak fondly of Biden, including many saying he is experienced or “good.”
“Kind heart. Good man,” said one 41-year-old man.
The billionaire is known for just that: About 3 in 10 of those describing former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg mentioned his wealth, or suggested he was buying the election. Many simply said “money” or “rich.” A 62-year-old Democrat described him as “buying votes.”
Some others described Bloomberg as dishonest, calling him names like “liar.”
Still, close to 2 in 10 Democrats included positive words on Bloomberg, including “action oriented,” and “intelligent.”
Pete Buttigieg sees more variation in the types of words people use to describe him. About 1 in 10 call out his age, saying he’s “young.” Roughly another 1 in 10 mention that he’s smart and a similar share call him inexperienced. The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, entered the contest distinguishing himself from his septuagenarian rivals, and advocating for Democrats to turn the page.
“Capable but inexperienced,” said one 73-year-old Democrat.
Another Democrat considered his age a benefit, not a flaw: “Young and new ideas,” the 40-year-old said.
Also distinguishing Buttigieg: He would be the first openly gay U.S. president. About 1 in 10 mention his sexual orientation.
Overall, about 4 in 10 Americans don’t have something to say about Buttigieg.
Amy Klobuchar is a moderate, a midwesterner and among those running to be the first woman president of the United States. While those who describe her think of these and more, none stands above the others.
No single response is used by more than 6% of those describing the Minnesota senator. About half of Americans, including about 4 in 10 Democrats, don’t give a description.
Among Democrats, 1 in 10 think of her intellect, calling her “smart,” and 6% mention her centrist ideology and “pragmatism.” Some give negative reactions, including a few saying she is “mean to her staff” — a widely reported news story early in the campaign. Others just called her “ok.”
But more are generally positive, using words like “reasonable,” “strong” and “sincere.”
“Rational and experienced,” said one Democrat, 67.
About a quarter name liberalism, socialism or communism when asked to think about Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator has forcefully pushed the Democratic Party left with grassroots campaigns in both 2016 and 2020, calling for overhauls to health care, Wall Street and higher education. While Republicans are especially likely to mention ideology, nearly 1 in 10 Democrats do, too.
Some call him “crazy.” Like Biden, Sanders also gets knocked for his age, with roughly 1 in 10 calling him “old.”
“Too extreme and too old” said one Democrat, 55.
But among Democrats, many describe Sanders as “smart,” “great” or “honest,” or make references to health care policy.
“Leader of the future,” offered a 28-year-old Democrat. Another Democrat, 62, called him a “warrior for the people.”
Like Bloomberg, Tom Steyer is known for being “rich,” with wealth mentioned by 14% of those who volunteer a word to describe him.
One 30-year-old Democrat says he is “trying to buy the election.”
About 1 in 10 point out the businessman’s first foray into politics, such as saying he is “inexperienced” or “unknown.” Overall, about half of Americans don’t know enough to give a reaction to Steyer.
Another Democrat, 72, focused not on his wealth but on his chances: “Down to earth but not up to challenge.”
Five percent of Democrats mention climate change, an issue he has championed.
Americans don’t coalesce around one way of describing Elizabeth Warren. A sizeable share think of “dishonest” and “lies” — descriptions that are concentrated heavily among Republicans. Five percent of those describing her mention her left-leaning politics. Similar percentages call her “smart” or “strong.”
Among Democrats, descriptions focus on strength, a willingness to fight and competence.
“Intelligent and well-seasoned,” says one Democrat, 45.
“She has a plan!” says another, 60, referencing the early-adopted mantra of the Massachusetts senator’s campaign.
As is the case for most measures of the president, the words offered to describe him are deeply partisan.
Close to 2 in 10 Republicans describe Trump’s leadership or his presidency. Others called him “good” or “honest.” Trump faces almost no challenge for the Republican nomination, and responses suggest that’s just fine with his supporters.
“Greatest president ever,” said one Republican, 63. Many volunteered Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan: MAGA. A 68-year-old woman called him a “great leader.”
Still, some Republicans went negative, including calling him “arrogant” or a “liar.”
Meanwhile, Democrats volunteered those and many other negative words in reaction to the president. Many labeled him “evil,” “racist,” “corrupt” and a “bully.”
The AP-NORC poll of 1,074 adults was conducted Feb. 13-16 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.