Voters consider many things when weighing their options at the polls: Policy views. Experience. Track record. Likability. And one hopes, what kind of leader they think each candidate would be.
But when it comes to the public's perceptions on four essential leadership traits -- a candidate's capacity to be inspiring, visionary, courageous and to care about individuals -- three of the four leading candidates for the most important leadership job in the world score remarkably low.
New research from Gallup, released Friday, asked 7,500 members of the public to rate Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on their perceptions of 12 leadership traits for each candidate. Though Gallup tweaked the wording slightly, they are the same dozen attributes the research and consulting firm has found to most predict leadership success in the more than 200 organizations it has studied.
What it found: Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses. As one might guess, Donald Trump does particularly well on being competitive (84 percent of respondents gave him a "4" or "5" rating on a 1 to 5 scale), and two to three times more respondents said Bernie Sanders cares about individuals than they did about the other candidates. Also unsurprising: Because Gallup was asking about political candidates, about whom people tend to have strong and bifurcated opinions, most of the candidates don't score above 60 percent on a majority of the traits.
"You automatically have a subset of people who won’t rate them highly," said Frank Newport, Gallup's editor-in-chief. "I was not quite as interested to see where they were in an absolute rating ... [as I was in] how each candidate has a profile which tells us a lot about what they could do as a leader."
Still, what was telling was Gallup's comparison of how voters scored candidates to the traits they said matter most. Gallup found that four of the 12 traits -- being inspiring, visionary, courageous and caring about individuals -- were most linked with a voter saying they'd be likely to vote for a given candidate. For instance, a Democratic voter might score Trump highly on being "competitive" or one who "emphasizes success," but that doesn't mean he'd get that person's vote. Analyzing a willingness to vote is an effective proxy for the leadership traits that matter most to voters, and that most people would likely agree represent the core of what makes leaders great.
Unfortunately, the average ratings on those four traits were the lowest of the 12 (in addition to being "analytical," which tied with "courageous"), falling below less critical attributes such as being "enthusiastic" or "intense."
"It happens to be that the traits that correlate to a likelihood to vote are the ones that are the lowest," said Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, noting that candidates who are able to emphasize issues like their vision or how they care for others could have a leg up as the election goes on. "These leaders are going to have to figure out a way to present themselves that they carry these characteristics."
If they aren't able to change those perceptions, Newport said, "they'll have a real liability" once the winner enters office. "We've got two front-runners entering with real deficits that need to be worked with."
One candidate did stand out: Average the percentage of respondents who gave the candidate a "4" or a "5" on the four key traits outlined above, and Sanders comes out far and above the other candidates, with an average of 54 percent. Clinton and Trump, meanwhile, tie with an average of 29 percent across the ratings for these four attributes, and Cruz comes in last with an average of 25 percent.
So if Sanders does better on the leadership traits most linked with what matters to voters, why isn't he the Democrats' front-runner?
"There are issues for voters outside of what we're measuring here," said Newport, such as candidates' policies or track record. "We didn't intend them to be predictive in any way. Bernie Sanders has a very positive leadership profile, but he hasn't been able to translate that into front-runner status."
Still, Harter and Newport say, the research does help to show the distinct leadership traits of each candidate. Clinton gets better ratings than any candidate on being prepared and analytical,the Gallup report states, which contributes to a public image that "is clearly on the hardworking, 'wonkish' side of the ledger.' She ties with Cruz, meanwhile, as the lowest on being visionary.
Sanders' image is most distinctive from the others, winning on more of the traits than any other candidate, particularly when it comes to being consistent or caring about individuals, winning on the " 'softer' dimensions of leadership," the Gallup report notes. Trump, meanwhile, sees ratings at the extremes, earning both the lowest marks of any candidate for any trait (caring about individuals, for which just 19 percent of respondents score him well) and the highest of any candidate for any trait (competitiveness, for which he gets an 84 percent rating).
Cruz, meanwhile, is less differentiated than the other candidates, Gallup notes, with relatively even scores across the 12 traits, which may reflect being lesser known than his competitors.