Reputation audit: Hillary Clinton

Reputation audit: Hillary Clinton
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Hillary Clinton is a public figure with wide popularity – and fierce detractors

Former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads all Democratic 2016 popularity polls, as she has since December, 2008.  As of now, no other contender comes close: recent Economist/YouGov Polls finds Hillary Clinton far better known among Democrats than possible rivals like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, and she is better liked than Vice President Joe Biden.


In fact, it seems that Clinton is loved even by Democrats who didn’t support her 2008 run.  African-American Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008 primaries and caucuses.  But just about as many blacks as Democrats overall have a favorable assessment of Clinton today.

Fans & detractors

Of course, the 2016 election is still a long way away.  And candidates who are unknown now will emerge – just as Barack Obama did in 2008.  But Hillary Clinton gets enormous positive assessments from Democrats – and occasionally gets respect from non-Democrats, too. 

Still, as a possible candidate, she remains a polarizing figure among the public overall. 

Overall, 49% have a favorable opinion of Clinton; 44% do not. 

Those who dislike Clinton really dislike her.  28% say their opinion of Clinton is very unfavorable.  And among Republicans, almost half are very unfavorable.  But Republican opinions about the current President are even more negative.  

When asked to give a word or phrase about Hillary Clinton, many of her detractors focus on her honesty – or their perception that she doesn’t have any.  “Liar,” “dishonest,” “deceitful” and “untrustworthy” dominate the word cloud created from those responses.  She is also called a liberal, and castigated in other ways (note the size of the word “B****” in the word cloud) by those who dislike her.

Those who like Hillary Clinton focus on her strength and intelligence, using a variety of words to convey those concepts.


Honesty & competence

Issues of honesty have dogged Clinton for years.  In this week’s poll, a third of Americans says she has less honesty and integrity than most people in public life.  But most think she has the same amount – or even more. 

On a different question, whether Clinton says what she really believes or what she thinks others want to hear, Americans divide evenly, and pretty much along partisan lines.  But Clinton fares better than Barack Obama does on the same question: the public is 16 points more likely to say he says mostly what people want to hear than to say what he really believes.  But the difference is mainly that Republicans and independents are much more likely to accuse the President of pandering, not that they think more highly of Clinton. 

When it comes to morality, nearly half (46%) agree that Clinton shares the moral values most Americans try to live by.  But more than a third (37%) disagree. 

It is clear that competence is a Clinton strength.  Despite the killings of the American Ambassador and other U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya near the end of her term as Secretary of State, Americans continue to positively assess her tenure in that job.   They are even more positive about her work as First Lady.  

Republicans view Clinton’s performance in both of these jobs better than they currently view Barack Obama’s Presidency.  Just 10% of Republicans approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President; twice as many (21%) approve of how Clinton performed as Secretary of State, and even more (32%) approve her performance as First Lady. 

However, nearly three in four Republicans don’t have confidence in Hillary Clinton’s ability to handle an international crisis.  Overall, Americans are divided on that question (42% confident to 42% uneasy).  That is better than the responses of registered voters in a February 2008 CBS News/New York Times Poll, when more were uneasy (56%) about Clinton on international issues than had confidence in her (39%), suggesting her tenure as Secretary of State, despite Benghazi, burnished her qualifications in international affairs.

Looking to the future

What will matter most is not how voters feel about Hillary Clinton today, but what they will think about her in 2016.  Right now, there is a clear partisan divide: Democrats like her and want her to run, Republicans don’t.  And just about half the country thinks she is qualified for the job.  One in four Republicans agree.  Independents aren’t sure.


But most Americans can’t think of another woman they believe is qualified for the job; former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Warren, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are most frequently mentioned, followed (at a distance) by First Lady Michelle Obama.  

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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