Survey Also Reveals Which Personal Attributes in Candidates Voters Like and Consider Important

ST. LEO, FL – As voters in 14 states and the territory of American Samoa head to primaries on March 3 to cast votes for a Democratic nominee to run against President Donald J. Trump, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( released data showing that five to six issues have steadily dominated voters’ concerns over the last year.

The top areas of concern are: health care, jobs and the economy, immigration, government spending or the federal budget deficit, global climate change, and education.

The polling institute is able to determine these priorities by including in its regular national surveys one question that asks the respondents to look at a detailed list of 16 policy areas and to name “the most important issue facing the nation” at the time of the survey. Respondents can also choose to indicate “some other issues” or “I don’t know.” The same question is put to 1,000 people each time.

Health care is at its highest percentage in some time in the most recent poll, said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, and a political scientist. Given the timing, with the most recent survey results having been collected from February 17 to February 22, he said he wonders if concerns about coronavirus brought health care to its latest level of concern among survey respondents.

The percentages of times the issues were named is shown in declining order in the following chart, with the most recent survey results at right.

Issues most important:


February 2019 -% April 2019 – % November 2019 -% February 2020 – %
Health care 15.9 20.5 18.7 21.8
Jobs and the economy 15.4 14.4 14.4 15.1
Immigration 14.0 18.3 11.6 10.0
Government spending / federal budget deficit 13.3 8.3 8.7 9.5
Global climate change 6.5 3.6 9.3 8.6
Education 4.2 3.9 3.6 4.8
Gun violence 6.3 3.7 5.5 4.4
Homeland security and anti-terror policy 4.0 5.6 4.8 4.4
Declining U.S. status worldwide 3.9 3.7 4.3 3.0
Crime 1.8 2.2 3.4 2.7
Gun control / Second Amendment rights 3.3 3.4 3.2 2.7
Terrorism 1.7 3.1 2.7 2.4
Internet / data security 0.7 0.6 0.6 1.2
Foreign affairs 1.0 2.0 2.1 1.0
International trade imbalance 0.8 0.3 0.5 0.9
Energy policy 1.0 0.4 0.2 0.5


The trendline in the level of concern expressed over government spending from survey to survey is intriguing, said Orlando, the polling institute director. He noted that, “Concerns about government spending and the deficit have settled in below 10 percent. It seems that neither Republicans nor Democrats have the desire to stop spending.”

Personal qualities that voters value in candidates

The polling institute asked the national base of respondents in the most recent survey what traits in presidential candidates would make the respondents more likely to support a candidate in 2020. The respondents were given a long list of characteristics to choose from, and they were able to select multiple choices.

The results are shown in declining order as they appeared in the overall sample. For comparison, the table also shows how views varied according to party enrollment. There were 270 Republicans, 310 Democrats, and 381 independents in the sample.

Traits or Characteristics U.S. overall Democrats Republicans Independents
Honest / believable 59.3 61.0 48.1 66.7
Integrity 50.7 49.7 46.7 55.9
Moral 44.4 38.4 41.5 52.2
Will work with both political parties 43.6 33.5 35.6 58.5
Personable / likable 33.0 35.2 31.5 32.8
Electable 30.9 36.0 27.0 29.9
Experienced in politics 27.6 38.7 16.3 27.6
Tough on the world stage 24.1 11.6 34.4 27.8
Has business experience 23.4 12.6 35.6 23.9
Is moderate 21.4 17.4 14.1 31.0
Bold – dreaming big instead of incrementally introducing policies 20.3 20.0 20.4 21.0
Is conservative 19.5 7.7 48.1 8.9
Will or has already released personal income tax returns 15.6 18.7 6.3 20.5
Religious 13.6 9.4 21.9 11.3
Is liberal 12.7 26.1 7.0 6.8
Younger age 9.8 8.4 5.9 13.6
Has military experience 9.5 4.8 9.3 13.6
Is not wealthy 7.4 8.4 5.2 7.9
Sexual orientation 5.3 3.9 7.0 4.2
Inexperienced in politics 4.3 3.2 5.2 4.5
None of these 4.2 3.9 3.0 3.4
Older age 4.0 3.9 3.3 4.5
Is wealthy 3.7 4.8 4.1 2.1


“There are so many interesting things apparent in this chart,” Orlando said. “One important thing to note right off the top is how more independents value personal characteristics than do Republicans or Democrats, suggesting perhaps that the way to win these independents’ votes is on style, not on policy. Republicans are looking for people with business experience who are religious, while Democrats just seem most interested in finding someone electable and honest.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 17 through February 22, 2020, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations,, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at