Experience Or Inspiration, What Voters Want In a Leader

Posted January 24, 2008 at 3:04pm

Asked which quality is more important in a president, most respondents in a Gallup poll released today said that they would prefer a tested leader over an inspirational one. The poll, conducted Jan. 10-13, shows that 71 percent of Americans say it is “very important” for a president to be inspiring and another 23 percent say it is “somewhat important.” But, 52 percent of respondents said that they would opt for “a candidate who is a tested leader but who is not that inspiring” while only 43 percent would vote for “a candidate who is inspiring but who has not been tested as a leader.”

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents, there is a correlation between the preference for an inspirational versus a tested leader and their current choice for their party’s presidential nominee. Barack Obama leads among Democrats who place a higher value on inspiration. He has 49 percent of support from that group, while Hillary Rodham Clinton only takes in 29 percent and John Edward trails with 15 percent. Democrats who believe it is better to elect a tested leader show an even greater preference for Clinton, giving her a 41 percentage point margin over Obama.

The poll also asked all respondents, regardless of party, how they would characterize the leaders for both parties’ presidential nominations. Republican John McCain is most likely to be viewed as a tested leader, with 72 percent of all respondents saying he fits that description. More than half of respondents (57 percent) also see Clinton as a tested leader, but only about one in three believe Obama and Mike Huckabee have been sufficiently tested as a leader.

While of course Gallup found that voters rated their own party’s candidates higher, the pollsters added “but even Republicans are more likely to rate Obama than Huckabee as inspiring, and Democrats are more likely to view McCain than Obama as being a tested leader. Democrats give Obama only a slight edge over Clinton on inspiration (78 percent to 72 percent), his supposed strong suit.”

The margin of error is ‘2 percentage points.