POLITICS

Voters Say Debt, Not Wealth, Is A Positive For 2016 Candidates

06/16/2015 05:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

When The New York Times ran a story last week spotlighting Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) financial struggles, he spun the news as an example of one way he relates to the economic worries many voters still face.

"Like most Americans, I know what it’s like for money to be a limited resource and to have to manage it accordingly," Rubio said in a statement to the Times.

His spokesman, Alex Conant, took the same tack, arguing that Rubio "has a good financial story to tell -- or at least one that is relatable to a lot of Americans."

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds voters are receptive to that argument, suggesting that, in a race with no shortage of wealthy candidates, having a shaky financial background is unlikely to hurt -- and could even be a modest advantage.

To start with, most voters aren't that concerned with politicians' finances. About two-thirds say they don't care whether a candidate is personally wealthy, or they're not sure whether candidate wealth is a positive or negative. Fifty-three percent say the same thing about a candidate who has struggled with debts.

But to the extent that a candidate's finances are an issue, a history of debts appears to play better than a wealthy background.

Voters say by an 8-point margin, 21 percent to 13 percent, that it's a negative for a candidate to be personally wealthy; by a 7-point margin, 27 percent to 20 percent, they say it's a positive if a candidate has been personally in debt.

Republicans are less likely than others to see a candidate's wealth as a bad thing, but are also more likely to rate experience with debts as a positive factor. (Some GOP respondents probably made the connection between the question and the recent story about Rubio, although his name wasn't explicitly mentioned).

The survey also finds that rather than seeing candidates' financial standing as a referendum on their ability to manage money -- and, by extension, their economic prowess -- voters are more likely to view it as reflective of whether a politician has the background to empathize with the challenges faced by ordinary Americans.

Forty-five percent of voters say the personal finances of presidential candidates are very relevant to their ability to understand the problems of average Americans. Just 29 percent say they're very relevant to candidates' abilities to handle economic issues as president.

In recent polls, whether a candidate could relate to Americans' problems was at least as important to people as where they actually stood on the issues. And economic worries remain significant: More than half of Americans are concerned they might slip to a lower economic class, and just about a third say they're making enough money to live comfortably.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 10-12 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. The results used in this piece are calculated from the 699 respondents who were registered voters.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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