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This is how unhappy Americans are with their choices in the presidential election

Both Democrats and Republicans are wildly unhappy with their own party's nominee. Why did they nominate them?
Both Democrats and Republicans are wildly unhappy with their own party's nominee. Why did they nominate them?
John Sommers II/Getty Images

The media has widely reported that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are less popular with Americans overall than any major party nominees in presidential history.

But it turns out it isn’t just the opposition that’s driving the widely negative views of the two candidates. In fact, both Trump and Clinton are also among the least popular nominees we’ve seen in decades, according to a new Pew study released on Thursday:

This shouldn’t be too surprising: Both Trump and Clinton emerged with their party’s nomination after bitter primary fights, and faced substantial opposition from major factions.

But the numbers are still striking. Clinton is the least popular Democratic nominee among Democrats since 1992, when — as New York magazine’s Jon Chait noted on Thursday — her husband Bill Clinton was enmeshed in the Gennifer Flowers sex scandal.

Trump doesn’t fare any better. The Pew study shows that Republicans have tended to be less thrilled in general with their party nominees than Democrats, but Trump hits a low point not seen since George H.W. Bush infuriated his base by violating his "no new taxes" pledge.

Another way of looking at these numbers: Since 1992, no candidate has won the presidency while being liked by less than 50 percent of his party’s own voters. This year will almost certainly change that.

Here are five other key findings from Pew’s big election report, released on Thursday:

Voters have the election on their mind

Voters may be unhappy with their nominees. But they’re not tuning out the election as a bunch of noise, either: Only 15 percent of the country has thought about the election "only a little" — the lowest number by nearly twofold since 1992.

Meanwhile, the numbers of voters who say "it really matters who wins" has skyrocketed from half the country to about three-fourths. More people think (or perhaps know) the stakes of the election this year are high.

Fear of the other side is only a bigger factor this year on the Democratic side

There’s been a lot of talk this election cycle about the extent to which it’s being driven by "negative partisanship" — or the extent to which voters are now motivated by fear of the other party rather than genuine support for their own.

And indeed, Pew’s study shows that something big has changed on the Democratic side. For the first time since 2000, more Democrats say their ballot is a vote against the opposition than for their own candidate. (That’s partly a reflection of Democrats’ mixed support for Clinton and their widespread revulsion toward Trump.)

But that dynamic is actually less powerful this year on the Republican side. More Republicans say they plan to cast a ballot for Trump than said the same about Mitt Romney in 2012 (as opposed to against the other side). It’s a small difference, but it may complicate the idea that "negative partisanship" is worse throughout the electorate this year than ever before.

Voters are pretty set in their views

Over the next few months, we’ll get a torrent of news about how the presidential candidates are using their campaigns to try to convince moderate voters to cross party lines.

But partisans on both sides are already set in whom they plan to vote for — and to a greater extent than ever before. For the first time since Pew began polling on the question in 2000, more than 90 percent of both parties’ voters say they have "definitely decided not to" vote for the other side’s candidate.

Everyone agrees Trump would change things

In 2008, Barack Obama seemed propelled by the idea that he was the "change" candidate. Trump, naturally, looks best posed to claim that mantle this time around. Close to 80 percent of Americans think he would shake things up in the nation’s capital.

But it’s not clear how much that will help him. Almost everyone agrees Trump would change Washington — but only 33 percent think he’d do so for the better.

Only Donald Trump supporters have viewed the race as policy-focused

Most Americans are frustrated by the state of the conversation around the campaigns: About 65 percent say they haven’t been substantive.

The exception is Trump’s supporters. Among those flocking to the Donald, close to half say the election has been "focused on important policy debates."