WASHINGTON -- How much voters really like or dislike a presidential candidate, a quantity known in the polling business as the "favorability rating," doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Election pollsters are constantly calculating this, but the results tend to get pushed aside, or buried, by the stories about who's ahead or behind, or the sensationalized revelations, fumbles, blunders and misstatements that can scuttle a candidacy.
Political analysts and reporters hate to admit it, but the fact of the matter is that many voters pick whom to vote for based on their perception of a candidate's persona, and this decision is made on a very instinctual level. Is a candidate likeable? Do they appear honest, or untrustworthy, calculating and evasive?
The Gallup Poll recently asked voters the favorable/unfavorable rating question, and the results show once again that Sen. Hillary Clinton is far and away the most unlikable in the bunch. In answer to the question, "Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton?" 53 percent said favorable and 44 percent said unfavorable. Her unfavorability rating has been as high as 50 percent in a number of other polls over this two-year period, but rarely lower than the mid-to-high 40s. Among all of the major candidates in her party, she has consistently been the least likeable -- usually by a wide margin.
Campaign strategists tell me that Clinton's high index of unfavorability is driven by voters who think she takes positions based solely on political calculations. Voters sense that, all too often, she sounds evasive in her answers, untrustworthy and dishonest in her statements of principle.
That perception hardened this month when her claim that she ran for cover avoiding snipers during a trip to Tuzla, Bosnia, as first lady turned up entirely bogus. Cable news shows last week repeatedly aired videos of Clinton telling the big whopper, followed by archival film showing her calmly walking off the plane, being greeted by dignitaries, and sauntering to her car.
Contrary to the claim that her plane had to make a "corkscrew" landing to avoid incoming fire, her pilot, retired Air Force Col. William Changose, recalled in a radio interview that there was no "evasive" maneuver as Clinton described it. "Not only were there no bullets flying around, there wasn't a bumblebee flying around," he said.
On the other hand, Barack Obama, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has consistently drawn high favorables and low unfavorables. Even people who say they will vote for someone else like him. Sixty two percent gave him a favorable rating and only 33 percent were unfavorable, Gallup said.