The 2012 presidential campaign was a frustrating experience for many voters, who say the campaign was more negative than usual and had less discussion of issues than in most previous campaigns. Both Obama and Romney get mixed grades for the job they did reaching out to voters, as do campaign consultants, the press and pollsters. On most measures, voters’ views of campaign 2012 fall short of the election four years ago.

Similarly, voters do not have a particularly rosy outlook on national politics going forward. Fully 66% say that relations between Republicans and Democrats will either stay about the same (52%) or get worse (14%) over the next year. And while 56% of voters think Obama will be successful in his coming term, that is down from the 67% who thought his first term would be successful at this point four years ago.

While broad majorities of all voters want Barack Obama (72%) and the Republican leadership (67%) to work with the other side to get things done over the coming year, each party’s political base sends mixed signals. Only about half (46%) of Republicans want GOP leaders to work with Obama to get things done, while about as many (50%) say they should stand up to Obama, even if less gets done. The message to Obama from Democrats is only somewhat more conciliatory: 54% want the president to try to work with Republicans, but 42% do not.

Pew Research/PBS NewsHour
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Republicans and Republican leaners remain of the view that the GOP leaders should move in a more conservative direction, not a more moderate one, by a 57% to 35% margin. Democrats and Democratic leaners, meanwhile, continue to support more moderation from their political leaders: Nearly six-in-ten (57%) want Democratic leaders to move in a moderate direction, while 33% want them to move in a more liberal direction.

These are the principal findings of the Pew Research Center’s quadrennial post-election survey, conducted Nov 8-11, 2012 among 1,206 voters who were originally interviewed before the election. The poll finds that, despite expressing strong criticisms of the campaign, most voters say they were satisfied with the choice of presidential candidates and believe they learned enough about them over the course of the campaign to make an informed choice. The presidential debates, in particular, stand out as positive – about two-thirds (66%) say they were helpful in learning about the candidates.

Republican voters are about as likely as Democratic voters to say they learned enough about the candidates to make an informed choice and to have found the debates helpful.

Republicans also are less critical of their candidate, and their party, today than they were after John McCain’s loss in 2008. Fully 75% of Republican voters give Mitt Romney a grade of A or B for the way he conducted his campaign. In the post-election survey four years ago, 63% of Republican voters gave McCain an A or B. In that regard, more GOP voters say they were satisfied with their choice of candidates this year than after the 2008 election (57% now, 38% then).

Republicans also are more positive about the GOP’s performance in the campaign. Six-in-ten GOP voters (60%) give their party grades of A or B for the way it conducted the campaign; just 44% rated the party that positively after the election four years ago.

But Republicans give the voters much lower grades than in 2008 – just 29% give a grade of A or B, down from 47%. In fact, Republicans’ grades for the voters equal the lowest grades given by members of either party dating back to 1988. In 1996, after Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton, just 30% of Republicans gave the voters positive grades.

The survey finds that internet has again grown as a source of campaign news. Nearly half (47%) of voters say the internet was a main source of campaign news over the course of the election, up from 36% four years ago. The internet now far surpasses newspapers (27%) as a main source of campaign news, though it still trails television (67%).

In this vein, virtually all voters (92%) who followed the returns on election night tracked them on television, and 34% followed the returns on the internet. Slightly more than a quarter of voters (27%) were “dual screeners,” using both television and the internet to get information. Among voters younger than 40, 39% of those who followed returns on election night kept track both by watching TV and following online.

Election night is also a social experience for some voters: 16% of those who followed election returns did so with friends, while 8% used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to track the results. Obama supporters were more likely to watch returns with friends, and to use social networks to follow results, than were voters who supported Romney.
Aside from long lines, few voters report having had problems casting their ballots. Some 37% of the voters interviewed say they cast their ballot before Election Day, 19% in person and 17% by mail. Many early voters cite convenience as the main factor they cast their ballots early, but for those who went to early voting sites the lines were often just as long as for those who waited until Election Day.

While most say the voting process in their area was managed well and that they are very confident that their votes were accurately counted, confidence about the vote nationwide is down from 2008. About three-in-ten (31%) voters say they are very confident that the votes across the country were accurately counted this year, down from 43% four years ago. Just 21% of Romney voters say they are very confident in the accuracy of this year’s vote, down from 29% among McCain supporters four years ago. Skepticism is also up among Obama supporters, 42% are very confident that the nation’s votes were accurately counted, down from 56% after the 2008 election.