As Gallup's Lydia Saad recently reported, Hillary Clinton's favorable rating, a measure of her overall popularity with the public, continues to fall, coming in at 44% over the time period July 8-Aug. 2. The decline has been anything but gradual -- over the course of 2015 alone, her favorable rating has fallen seven percentage points; over the past 18 months (since January 2014), Clinton's favorability tumbled 15 points. Her current rating is about a third lower than her all-time high of 66%, achieved in her final year as secretary of state in 2012. This is roughly in line with where it was in the summer of 2007 when, as is the case now, she was gearing up to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton's diminishing popularity creates clear problems for her presidential bid, which she officially launched in April. In the run-up to her formal candidacy, Clinton appeared to be one of the most formidable candidates in either party -- she was not only universally-known, but a large swath of the public had a favorable opinion of her, suggesting she might be able to build a support base that transcended typical partisan lines. But, as is most likely inevitable when a candidate jumps into the presidential race, the bipartisan glow Clinton once enjoyed began to dim. Fresh questions were raised about the viability of Clinton's candidacy.
These concerns are intensifying. Over the last few days, several publications have run reports indicating that many influential Democrats, concerned by the specter of scandal relating to Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, are pushing for Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race. This would give the Democrats a high-profile alternative to Clinton in addition to the four other candidates currently competing for the Democratic nomination, none of whom is known among more than half of Democrats.
This raises an important question: Among whom is Clinton's popularity sagging, and to what extent is she holding on to the crucial Democratic support she will need to gain the nomination? Gallup data suggest Clinton's favorable rating has dropped among all three main political groups, but more so among self-identified Republicans -- not exactly a segment of the population that the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination would expect to do well with. For data collected from July 8-Aug. 2, only slightly more than one in 10 Republicans (12%) said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton. This is down substantially from 2012, the last year Clinton was secretary of state, when a record 41% of Republicans had a favorable opinion of Clinton. It is also notably lower than Clinton's average favorable rating with Republicans for 2007 through 2015 (21%), a time period where she was mostly not in the political field.
But a brief look at the trend line of Clinton's favorable ratings will quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that her current popularity plunge among Republicans is some unique phenomenon. Clinton's current favorable rating among Republicans is comparable to several measurements taken in 2007, including 15% in two polls conducted in July 2007, a point in the campaign cycle that is similar to the present moment. Her 2007 low occurred in early June, where she received a favorable opinion from 13% of Republicans. Clinton's favorable rating oscillated over the course of the 2008 primary campaign, but only saw a sustained rise in mid-2008, by which time Clinton had effectively lost the presidential nomination to Barack Obama.
Her favorable ratings among Republicans would climb higher still once she became secretary of state. Clinton's stronger appeal among Republicans, in other words, occurred at times when she was seen as outside of the political system, either because she was a defeated candidate or serving in a role that has traditionally eschewed any appearance of partisanship.
The trend line of Clinton's favorable rating among independents and Democrats shows a similar pattern -- a rise in her nonpolitical years and a drop back now to where she was in 2007.
Relative to her watershed 2012 -- when she recorded peak favorable ratings among all three political identities -- Clinton lost a not-insignificant amount of support among all groups. Her current favorable rating among a crucial bloc, independents, is down 23 points from 2012 to 42%. Even among Democrats, Clinton has seen a double-digit decline in the percentage of Democrats saying they have a favorable opinion of her, from 91% in 2012 to 79% today. But, from a longer-range perspective, Clinton's image position today is quite similar to what it was in July 2007 among all three partisan groups. In some sense, then, it could be concluded that Clinton's deflating popularity is the simple result of her re-entrance into the political system.
Nonetheless it is probably disappointing for the Clinton campaign that she has not been able to retain the broad likeability she earned over her tenure as secretary of state. After all, even if Clinton is simply reverting to her 2007 favorable ratings rather than experiencing a complete image collapse, her 2007 numbers were low enough to invite strong competition in the Democratic presidential primary that year, including then Sen. Barack Obama. Additionally, there is no reason to conclude that Clinton's popularity has hit some sort of natural bottom. Given the protracted, murky nature of the "email-gate" scandal, which has invited the scrutiny of the GOP-led Congress, there are no assurances that Clinton won't see her support fall further.
Again, this is not to overstate the danger to Clinton's candidacy -- her deflated ratings are still at least within the bounds set when she last ran for president some eight years ago. But her falling popularity raises doubts that Clinton will be able to present herself as a candidate with cross-partisan appeal, the type of support she enjoyed when she was secretary of state. This does not mean Clinton will not successfully trek the long road to the White House, but it may be a more arduous journey than originally imagined.