Saturday, January 21, 2012

When did everyone start liking Hillary Clinton?

Recently a lot of people have been talking about Hillary Clinton in very flattering terms.  Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen say she is "the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy," and urge Barack Obama to "take the moral high ground" and step aside so she can be the Democratic nominee in 2012.  In the New York Times, Bill Keller thinks that Obama can stay in the top spot, but should make Hillary Clinton his running mate.  After all, she has "a Calvinist work ethic, the stamina of an Olympian, an E.Q. to match her I.Q., and the political instincts of a Clinton" and can bring a "missing warmth" to the campaign.

This seemed strange to me--as I remember, Hillary used to be regarded pretty much like Obama is today:  unquestionably smart, but not very good at connecting with ordinary people.  I don't remember anyone praising her "E.Q." when she led the attempt at health care reform.   Of course, that's just my memory, so I looked for more systematic data.  There have been many questions asking if people had a favorable or unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton, dating back to when Bill was seeking the 1992 Democratic nomination.  In fact, there were so many that I selected only a fraction of them to limit the amount of typing I had to do.  This figure shows the percent with a favorable view minus the percent with an unfavorable view.  For example, in the very first survey to ask about her (February 1992), 26% were favorable and 9% unfavorable, for a +17.

There were three periods when she was very popular--the beginning of the Clinton administration, for most of 1998 and the beginning of 1999, and since the middle of 2008.  In other times, favorable ratings were only slightly more common than unfavorable.  Her first period of popularity was presumably part of the general "honeymoon effect" for a new administration.  The second coincided with the effort to impeach Bill Clinton, when people presumably sympathized with her and thought she handled the situation with class.  The third seems to have started when she conceded the race for the Democratic nomination:  she went from +1 in April 2008 to +12 in June 2008.  Her ratings have kept climbing, and September 2011 was her highest ever (+43).  Maybe it's relatively easy to be popular as Secretary of State, as long as there are no policy disasters--a lot of the job is representing American interests and speaking up for American values. 

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