Is Hillary’s Unfavorable Problem ‘Exaggerated’?

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jul 31, 2015 8:30 PM
Is Hillary’s Unfavorable Problem ‘Exaggerated’?

We’ve been covering Hillary’s favorable/unfavorable ratings for quite some time now. You can read more about that herehereherehereherehere, and here

Her popularity is plunging like a rock. Meanwhile, she’s not performing all that well in key swing states, either. Charlie Cook wrote in National Journal about whether the tide has shifted on the Democratic side:

Up until now, the controversy regarding then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's private email server has been one that has consumed only those who fit into one or more of the following categories: conservative Republicans, regular Fox News-watchers, conservative talk-radio listeners, or Clinton-haters (both professional and amateur). In probably a hundred conversations or Q&A periods I have had in which the email server came up, it was from someone who fit the description above, but never from a swing voter, moderate, independent, or Democrat.

The most recent development—that the inspector general of the intelligence community found that in a sample of 40 emails provided by Clinton from her server, four (or 10 percent) included classified material—potentially puts a different twist on things. Even taking into account the chronic problem in the federal government of overclassification, stamping almost anything more sensitive than a Chinese take-out menu as classified, this story would seem to reinforce critics' claims that the Clintons don't play by the rules. And if the emails did contain classified material, contrary to Clinton's insistence that they didn't, then the former secretary of State was not particularly truthful.

[…]

While in all probability Clinton remains the prohibitive favorite to win the nomination, it is true that her favorable ratings have taken a tumble. For over four years, from 2009 until well into 2013, Clinton's favorable ratings in the Gallup Poll were in the 60's, but a few months into 2013 they started a plunge down to 43 percent. Arguably, her favorable ratings were unsustainably high during her tenure as secretary of State, when she was a diplomat more than a politician. Yet it does raise the question of what happens if the USS HRod begins taking on water. What would Democrats do? Is there an emergency "break the glass" option if real questions of Clinton's electability arise? It seems extremely unlikely that any one issue could bring Clinton down, but what if she begins to suffer 'death by a thousand cuts'?

Would Vice President Joe Biden and/or Sen. Elizabeth Warren jump in? Or would/could someone not being currently mentioned throw a hat into the ring, like say, Sen. Sherrod Brown or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg? Presumably Bloomberg would need to join the Democratic Party, but then again, has Sanders joined yet? Or would O'Malley effectively win the political Powerball by being the only plausible alternative running? While all of this is just idle speculation, it is an interesting hypothetical.

Yet, and here’s where the cold water is thrown: Does this even matter? Does Hillary’s awful approval numbers matter in the sense that it probably won’t impact how voters, especially those of a liberal persuasion, will cast their ballots next year. They may not trust, or like, Hillary, but by God they’re not voting Republican. In 2012, there were certainly some conservative voters who did not like Romney, but they couldn’t stomach a second term for Obama, so they went for him. As we all know, the night ended in great disappointment.

Also, Bill Clinton’s favorability ratings were also terrible in 1992, but he managed to trounce George H.W. Bush. As The New York Times’ Upshot blog noted, the favorable/unfavorable gauge might not be accurate. Moreover, it could be way too early to tell:

Candidate perceptions are not a good predictor of the ultimate election outcome, especially this early. In April 1992, for instance, a Gallup poll found that Bill Clinton’s ratings were 34 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, but he went on to defeat George H.W. Bush by more than five percentage points in the popular vote seven months later. By contrast, even though an April 2008 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans had a favorable view of John McCain, he ended up losing to Barack Obama by more than seven percentage points.

While it might seem obvious that people vote for the candidate they like best, that notion often gets the direction of causality backward. In the heat of the campaign, we ultimately tend to find reasons to support candidates who share our party affiliation or seem to have a good record in office (and to oppose candidates who do not). One way people do this, as the George Washington University political scientist John Sides notes, is by focusing on the positive aspects of candidates they are inclined to support (Mitt Romney’s management experience) and playing down any less appealing aspects (his likability).

So, what say you? Will this be a repeat of 1992 with a large portion of Democrats, who have a “meh” attitude toward Hillary voting for her in droves, like Bill? Or will people catch Obama fatigue, yearn for change, and therefore have their minds more open to a Republican? We still have a long way to go until 2016, and there are plenty of opportunities for both sides to screw up royally that could render the favorability factor (or non-factor) in this race moot. You can also debate among yourselves in the comment section below.

Again, just throwing this out there.