Clinton nosedive?

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 16:

This week:

  • 23 years of polling on Hillary Clinton;
  • Republicans have already closed most of the gap;
  • Coffman not running for Senate in Colorado.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

President 2016

Hillary Clinton: They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. This one is at least worth a few hundred:


That bit at the end should get your attention. Hillary is suddenly in the red — a place where it isn’t very common for her to be.

CNN has taken 110 polls on Hillary Clinton’s popularity since 1992, using different polling firms over the years. The data from all of those polls is reflected in the chart above.

Clinton has had effective universal name recognition since September 1993, by which time she had been first lady for eight months.  In the time since, Hillary has rarely suffered ratings as bad as what she got in the latest CNN poll. To be specific:

  • In terms of her unfavorability, the May poll is tied for her third-worst ever.
  • In terms of her favorable rating, it is her fifth-worst ever.
  • In terms of her net unfavorable rating — that is, favorable minus unfavorable — this month’s result is her fourth-worst ever.

This is not an ideal place to begin a campaign for president. But as the various scandals take their toll — emails, Clinton Cash, and yes, Benghazi — this is where Hillary now stands.

It is interesting and perhaps instructive to look back at the old Hillary polls. There are a few incidents that clearly contributed to making her popular or unpopular. She has historically gained a great deal of sympathy after revelations of her husband’s sexual indiscretions, (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinski) whereas other controversies involving money and power (HillaryCare, Marc Rich, the taking of $190,000 worth of gifts from the White House in 2001 that the Clintons later reimbursed at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar) have damaged her.

Scandals aside, Hillary’s ratings have also suffered whenever she has taken on explicitly political roles. Her role in HillaryCare made her considerably less popular in 1994, after strong numbers during her honeymoon period as First Lady. Her 2000 run for Senate brought on unusually high unfavorables, which she was able to overcome at least with New York’s voters. As a back-bench senator, her ratings were positive, but not strongly so. When she ran for president in 2008, her unfavorables crested above 45 percent.

On the other hand, the non-political role of secretary of State suited her public image quite well, driving her favorable rating up to nearly 70 percent. Her re-entry into politics has obviously been very rough on her image.

Of course, favorable/unfavorable is just one way of measuring a candidate. There are others in this poll. Asked whether Clinton “inspires confidence,” only 49 percent said she does — down from 58 percent in March 2014. Asked whether she “cares about people like you,” 47 percent said she does and 52 percent said she doesn’t — a reversal from the previous July, when 53 percent said she did. And as in other polls, she is now flunking the “honest and trustworthy” test, with a stunning 57 percent saying that label does not apply to her.

What’s more, a large majority (58 percent) is now “dissatisfied” with her performance on Benghazi, and a smaller majority (51 percent) approves of Republican congressional efforts to investigate.

Another way to measure a candidate is to look at how she stacks up against the others:


Clinton’s biggest problem in this poll might be the enormous leads she appears to have given up against the various Republican hopefuls. She previously held steady leads against all comers in the range of 15 to 25 points. Now the same CNN poll is showing her leads eroding in a single month by double digits — by 15 points against Ted Cruz, 19 points against Scott Walker, 18 points against Rand Paul, 11 points against Marco Rubio, and 9 points against Jeb Bush. This is a massive correction. From a Republican perspective, Clinton has just gone from unstoppable juggernaut to “Hey, she puts her pantsuit on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.”

Although Hillary still leads in each case, this result and others like it place her inevitability very much in doubt — especially given that all of her opponents (even Jeb Bush) have lower name recognition and thus more room to grow. It is also worth noting that these are all polls of U.S. adults — they might look even worse for her if they were limited to registered or likely voters, as these conditions tend to improve Republicans’ polling performance as a rule.

Now, some people will point out that the numbers here don’t mean much about the election result 17 months from now. And this is true. But they matter anyway, because Clinton’s free ride to the Democratic nomination is partly a function of her perceived invulnerability. The best argument for Hillary, by far, is that she can win — that she will win — in November 2016.

With that assumption of inevitability in hand, Democratic primary voters have so far viewed efforts to find an alternative to Hillary as not just superfluous but also counterproductive. But what if perhaps she can’t win? If the erosion in her poll numbers continues, and this summer’s polls show her trailing one or more of the relatively less-well-known Republicans, those nagging doubts are sure to start making Democrats anxious. And given that the rest of their field is so weak, that’s a very bad situation for them.

Rick Perry: The longest-serving governor in Texas history gave a strong opening to his CIB121114-Perry2campaign with a speech last week. Don’t count him out, but understand what he’s up against. He was viewed as a potential savior in a weak 2012 field. He lost then, and surely he learned a lot from the experience. But the 2016 field is so much stronger that he might have a hard time making himself relevant.

Something similar could be said of other also-rans from previous races — Rick Santorum and perhaps Mike Huckabee — as well as Bobby Jindal and other candidates who have credentials but no national profile. The 2016 field has become a murderer’s row of GOP superstars, with experienced and credible candidates from every ideological background and every sort of governing experience jumping at the chance to end the Obama era. It just isn’t like 2008 — when Republicans had just had their bench cleared by the 2006 massacre — or 2012, when no one credible emerged to take on Mitt Romney.

Senate 2016

Arizona: With uncertainty still in the air over Arizona’s congressional districts (the Supreme Court could rock the boat as soon as this morning), Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D, announced late last month that she would be running for Senate. Her bid probably only becomes interesting if Sen. John McCain, R, gets a credible primary challenge. Rep. Matt Salmon, R, is considering giving him one, but McCain proved in 2010 that he is no slouch by easily putting away former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Colorado: Rep. Mike Coffman, R, will not run for Senate. This probably has the NRCC giving a sigh of relief, as Coffman’s very swingy House seat would not be easy to defend, were he to leave it open. Even so, he was probably the best-positioned candidate to knock off the always-vulnerable Sen. Michael Bennet, D. One early Quinnipiac poll showed Bennet trailing him already.

Republicans are back to square one in terms of finding a candidate. Coffman’s wife, Cynthia Coffman, the Centennial State’s attorney general, is one of the potential hopefuls, as is Owen Hill, a conservative state lawmaker who made a bid for Senate in 2014 only to back out after Cory Gardner got into the race.

Indiana: Former Rep. Baron Hill, D, formally entered the race for Indiana Senate last week. He isn’t the least electable Democrat in Indiana, but the state has a distinctive Republican lean, and it’s hard (though not impossible) to imagine Hoosiers sending two Democrats to represent them in the Senate.

In 2012, it took a presidential year and a pretty massive screw-up by Republicans for a Democrat to win statewide. Democrats will have the presidential-year wind at their backs once again, but they remain the weaker state party. Republicans have two declared candidates already — including the conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the Fort Wayne area — and two other members of the congressional delegation are considering bids. Coats staffer and former state party chairman Eric Holcomb is the apparent establishment choice.

House 2015

Mississippi-1: As expected, Republican district attorney Trent Kelly easily retained the seat of the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R.