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Race Relations Outscores Foreign Policy as Clinton Strength

Race Relations Outscores Foreign Policy as Clinton Strength

Story Highlights

  • 42% say Clinton would do good job on foreign policy as president
  • Public perceives Clinton's greatest strength would be race relations
  • Generally mixed reviews of her tenure as secretary of state

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans are more likely to say Hillary Clinton would do a good job handling foreign affairs as president than to say she would do a bad job, but this rating is no higher than her rating on the economy and healthcare, and is lower than her rating on handling race relations.

Now, thinking about Hillary Clinton. If she were elected president in 2016, do you think Hillary Clinton would do a good job, a fair job or a bad job handling each of the following issues?

These results are part of Gallup's early look at the American public's view of foreign affairs as an election issue heading into 2016. Americans' views of Hillary Clinton on foreign affairs are particularly interesting at this early stage of the campaign, given that she is by far the most well-known candidate and has a unique background in foreign affairs. This background includes four years as secretary of state, along with eight years as a U.S. senator and eight years as first lady in the White House.

Clinton's prior service could be seen as a major plus for her presidential credentials. Republicans and others, however, have assailed aspects of her tenure at the U.S. Department of State, a time that involved her handling of the terrorist attacks at the Benghazi consulate and her handling of emails while secretary.

Americans give Clinton a net rating on foreign affairs (percentage good job minus percentage bad job) of +13, which is roughly the same as healthcare and the economy, but behind the +22 rating she receives for her potential to deal with race relations. Her ratings on handling terrorism are just behind these others. Americans are least positive about the job Clinton would do in handling two broad issues: the way government in Washington operates and the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S.

Clinton's Perceived Strengths Not in Total Sync With Issue Importance

Clinton's perceived strengths on various issues are not closely synchronized with the importance Americans put on those same issues. The issue Americans think Clinton would handle best -- race relations -- receives the lowest importance in terms of potential voting considerations. The three issues on which Clinton receives her next highest ratings are spread out across the issue importance spectrum: the economy is at the top of the importance list, healthcare policy in the middle and foreign affairs near the bottom.

A potential negative for Clinton could be the relatively low rating Americans give on her perceived ability to deal with the way government operates. This is one of the top three most important issues for Americans, yet the one on which she receives her lowest ratings.

Importance of Issue and Perceptions of Clinton's Handling of Issues

Clinton's Strength on Foreign Affairs Rated Vastly Different Across Party Lines

As would be expected, there are large differences in how Republicans, independents and Democrats think Clinton would handle various issues as president. Democrats generally expect her to perform well in all of the different areas, Republicans expect her to do poorly in all areas and independents have mixed views. Both Democrats and Republicans rate foreign affairs near the top of their respective rank-ordered lists, but with vastly different absolute ratings. Democrats' net rating of her potential ability to handle foreign policy is +62, independents is +2, and Republicans is -44.

Republicans' and independents' views of Clinton's ability to handle race relations stand at the top of their lists, significantly higher than any other issue. Democrats' ratings of Clinton on this issue are high as well, but no higher than their ratings of her on other issues. Republicans give Clinton the worst ratings on handling government in Washington and the way income and wealth are distributed, and these are near the bottom of the list for Democrats as well.

Clinton will be most likely facing several opponents for the Democratic nomination, even though she is the strong favorite at this point. Democrats say the economy and healthcare policy are the most important issues they will take into account in their vote for president, and they give her high ratings on both.

Americans' Perceptions of Clinton's Handling of Several Issues, by Party ID

Effect of Clinton's Time as Secretary of State

Americans are somewhat mixed in their evaluations of Clinton's four years as secretary of state, with more Americans rating her tenure as secretary of state as outstanding or above average than rating it below average or poor. The positive group consists of 38% of Americans, while the negative group represents 27%, with the rest saying her job performance was average.

Republicans' criticisms of Clinton's tenure as secretary of state are reflected in the finding that 62% rate her performance in that job as below average or poor, contrasted with Democrats' 63% positive rating of her performance. Independents have mixed opinions, roughly split across the positive, average and negative categories.

Thinking back on her time as U.S. secretary of state from 2009-2013, from what you have heard, read or remember, how would you rate the job Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state?

Bottom Line

Hillary Clinton's experience as secretary of state does not appear to be either an exceptionally strong positive for her or a strong negative with the U.S. public. Americans rate her potential performance as president on the foreign policy dimension about the same as several other issues and below how she would do on what appears to be a more distinctive strength -- her ability to deal with race relations. Looking back, less than half of Americans say she did an outstanding or above average job as secretary of state, a rating that is below her current overall favorable rating.

Republicans generally assume that Clinton would do a bad job on every issue tested were she to become president, although their negative ratings of her potential on foreign affairs are not as low as their ratings of her on other dimensions. This suggests that despite their criticism of aspects of how she did her job as secretary of state, they do not see her ability on foreign affairs to be an exceptional negative compared with their views of other issues she would deal with in the White House. Democrats are quite optimistic about how Clinton would handle all issues as president, and while they rate her highly on foreign policy, this rating is no more positive than other issues' ratings.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 6-7, 2015, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

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