Unpopularity contest: Poll shows grim outlook for 2016 winner

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NBC News Poll: Leading Candidates Trail in Favorability Ratings

As the American public views the 2016 presidential campaign, it's seeing many more flaws than strengths, according to results from a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

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Nearly seven-in-10 registered voters say they couldn't see themselves supporting Republican frontrunner Donald Trump; 61 percent say they couldn't back fellow Republican Ted Cruz; and 58 percent couldn't see themselves voting for Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton.

What's more, 65 percent of all voters have a negative view of Trump - making him the most unpopular major presidential candidate in the history of the NBC/WSJ poll. Fifty-six percent have an unfavorable view of Clinton, which is up five points from last month. And almost half of voters view Cruz in a negative light.

To top it off, just 19 percent of all respondents give Clinton high marks for being honest and trustworthy, while only 12 percent give Trump high scores for having the right temperament.

"The Republicans have a party problem, and the Democrats have a candidate problem," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Adds Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates, "At some point, when the confetti is on the floor and the lights are turned out, the winner needs to govern. And the outlook for the next president, whoever he or she will turn out to be, looks grim."

Clinton tops GOP foes in head-to-head races

According to the poll, Clinton leads Trump by 11 points in hypothetical general-election matchup, 50 percent to 39 percent - essentially unchanged from a month ago.

But Clinton is ahead of Cruz by just two points, 46 percent to 44 percent, which again is unchanged from March.

Yet Bernie Sanders - whose positive rating outweighs his negative score in the poll - bests Cruz by 12 points, 52 percent to 40 percent.

And John Kasich, who trails Trump and Cruz in the GOP delegate race but holds the highest positive-negative score in the poll, beats Clinton by 12 points, 51 percent to 39 percent.

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Unpopularity contest: Poll shows grim outlook for 2016 winner
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 13: Attendees await the start of a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (not pictured) at Washington Square Park on April 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 13: Attendees await the start of a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (not pictured) at Washington Square Park on April 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/WireImage)
Attendees hold signs in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, at a campaign event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Sanders stepped up his feud with General Electric Co., denouncing the manufacturer as 'greedy' and accusing Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt of not being truthful in responding to the attacks. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Natalia Plaza (L) and Suzanne Tufan, with their faces painted, wait for a campaign rally with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York, New York April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
An attendee wears a t-shirt in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, at a campaign event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Sanders stepped up his feud with General Electric Co., denouncing the manufacturer as 'greedy' and accusing Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt of not being truthful in responding to the attacks. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee holds a sign in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, at a campaign event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Sanders stepped up his feud with General Electric Co., denouncing the manufacturer as 'greedy' and accusing Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt of not being truthful in responding to the attacks. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 13: Rosario Dawson speaks onstage at a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (not pictured) at Washington Square Park on April 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Film director Spike Lee attends the Bernie Sanders rally in Washington Square Park on April 13, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic)
MANHATTAN, NY - APRIL 13: U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaigns at Washington Square Park in Manhattan, NY, on April 13, 2016. (Photo by Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at his campaign rally in Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at his campaign rally in Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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Intraparty fights bruise the frontrunners

One reason for the rising negative numbers for both Trump and Clinton are their intraparty bruises as the primary races become more competitive.

Forty-one percent of Sanders' voters have a negative opinion of Clinton, versus 40 percent who have a positive view of her.

Republicans backing Trump's rivals are even harsher about the GOP frontrunner: 56 percent of Cruz's voters and 71 percent of Kasich's have a negative view of Trump.

"As primaries go deeper, the opposition [becomes] more negative," says McInturff, the GOP pollster.

Overall, however, 73 percent of Democratic voters say they would be satisfied if Clinton becomes the party's presidential nominee (though just 47 percent of Sanders backers say that).

That's compared with 63 percent of Republican voters who would be satisfied if Trump becomes the GOP's nominee, and 66 percent who would be satisfied if Cruz is the Republican winner.

In March 2012, 72 percent of Republicans said they'd be satisfied if Mitt Romney became their party's nominee.

50% approve of Obama's handling of the economy

In this sea of negative sentiments about the 2016 candidates, one major politician has benefited: President Barack Obama.

His overall job-approval rating stands at 49 percent, which is unchanged from last month. But 50 percent now approve of his handling of the economy - the highest percentage on this question since his first months in office in Sept. 2009.

That said, just 41 percent approve of Obama's handling of foreign policy.

"The president seems to be the beneficiary of the behavior of the candidates," says Yang, the Democratic pollster.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted April 10-14 among 1,000 registered voters (including more than half reached by cell phone), which has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

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