Bill Clinton is still the more popular half, but his popularity has dropped recently
Bill Clinton has been among the most popular of the five most recent presidents – today he is second only to Ronald Reagan in favorability. But the latest YouGov poll suggests that even he may be tarnished, though it is not necessarily because of recent reminders of the sex scandals before and during the Clinton Presidency. It may be more because of the impact of partisan polarization in this election cycle, as his wife, Hillary Clinton, campaigns for the 2016 Democratic nomination.
As late as a year and a half ago, and for much of the time since 2009, about six in ten Americans had favorable opinions of Bill Clinton. But in the measurement taken last year and in the latest poll, favorable totals dropped to 53%, and today four in ten express unfavorable views of Clinton.
The change has come from a greater polarization of opinion – what one would expect in the middle of a campaign. Favorable opinions of Bill Clinton among Democrats have risen five points, while unfavorable ones among Republicans have jumped 12 points. Independents have shifted the most: in August 2014 opinion of the former President from independents was favorable, 59% to 34%. Now independents are divided, with 44% favorable and 46% not favorable. Those changes all happened last year, and are not the result of the recent criticisms.
But among all three political groups, Americans feel better about Bill than they do about Hillary, a reversal from what people said during Clinton’s 1998-1999 impeachment and trial.
Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings dropped when it became clear that she was considering running for President. While Secretary of State, she regularly performed better than the President when it came to popularity. More than one in four Republicans had a favorable view of her, and independents were net positive. Now, fewer than one in ten Republicans and only a third of independents are favorable about the former Secretary of State.
Despite Bill Clinton’s slippage in popularity, he remains second only to Ronald Reagan when the public is asked to assess recent presidents. But several years ago, he and Reagan were much more closely matched.