How Hillary Clinton has become more popular than Barack Obama


Then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton wave to the crowd in June 2008 in Unity, N.H., in a show of unity after Obama won the Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

How times have changed since then-Sen. Barack Obama made that remark in a televised debate ahead of the 2008 New Hampshire primaries. Back then, more of the public preferred Obama over rival Sen. Hillary Clinton. In a poll conducted soon after Obama gave that backhanded compliment, 54 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton compared to 63 percent for Obama. The Democrats, and eventually the nation, decided that Obama was the more popular one, as demonstrated by his later primary successes and two presidential election victories.

But six years later, the popularity ratings of Obama vs. Clinton have reversed. According to a new Quinnipiac University survey of Ohio voters released Thursday, things are pretty bad for President Obama in the Buckeye State. He has a 36 percent approval/59 percent disapproval rating. Things are better for Clinton — she leads a handful of potential 2016 presidential opponents, including popular home state Gov. John Kasich (R).

"The bad news for Democrats is that President Obama's approval rating in Ohio is close to his all-time, all-state low. The good news for the party is that the president doesn't appear to be hurting the Democrats' consensus front-runner for 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown in the polling memo.

Ohio, a perennial swing state, is fertile ground for Clinton ahead of a possible 2016 run for president. She sports a +9 net favorable rating. And she beats four potential GOP foes in head-to-head match-ups, according to the poll: Clinton tops Kasich 47 percent to 40 percent; she gets past Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) 46 percent to 42 percent; she bests former Florida governor Jeb Bush 48 percent to 37 percent; and she tops New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 46 percent to 37 percent.

Other polls reinforce the Quinnipiac findings. At the beginning of 2014, 49 percent said in a Post-ABC poll they held a favorable opinion of Obama, but 58 percent said the same for Clinton. Although Clinton’s favorable ratings have fallen by nine points since Clinton resigned as secretary of state, her new popularity suggests she has weathered the scrutiny and strains of high political office better than the president has.

Clinton is now seen by the public as the stronger leader. A CNN/ORC poll carried out this month offered a direct comparison of the characteristics of both politicians, and in every category, Clinton beats Obama. By double-digit leads, Clinton is seen by more people as a decisive leader and able to manage government effectively. More people also believe Clinton “generally agrees with you on issues you care about,” cares about “people like you,” as well as “sharing your values.” Although it’s not a direct comparison, the same poll puts Clinton on a 59 percent job approval rating from her time as secretary of state. Obama has a 41 percent approval rating.

Some of the groups who have felt alienated by the Obama presidency are being won round by Clinton. Take Wall Street, always one of the president’s most complicated relationships. Although Wall Street financiers raised over $12 million during Obama's last campaign, few financiers appear to have much love for the president. It was his administration that pushed the Dodd-Frank banking reforms into law, and Obama said recently that “further reforms” are required. As one banker put it to CNN Money: “There's been so much finger pointing. He's made it seem bad to be successful and to be millionaires and billionaires.”

But Clinton has cultivated a warmer relationship with Wall Street. Last week, she spoke at the Ameriprise Financial Conference in Boston — adding to her frequent visits to Goldman Sachs and to investors such as those from The Carlyle Groups. Going back to 1999, Clinton backed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking law, which some, including potential 2016 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), believe played a part in the financial crisis. Clinton’s popularity on Wall Street may help her against Republicans if the GOP chooses an openly critical candidate in 2016, such as Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) or Ted Cruz (Tex.). But Jeb Bush might pose more of a threat; a top Republican lawyer recently told Politico that he would “love” a Clinton vs. Bush race in 2016, as “either outcome would be fine.”

On foreign policy, look for Clinton to contrast her more hawkish tendencies with the Obama administration’s approach. During an interview on CNN on Sunday, Clinton appeared to criticize the Obama administration's interactions with other nations. “How do we try to enlist the rest of the world in this struggle between cooperation and order and conflict and disorder, which is really at the root of so much that's going on today? And I don't think we've done a very good job of that,” she said. She also noted the popularity of George W. Bush in Africa because of his efforts to battle AIDS there. He made me “proud to be an American again,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s message was clear when she was secretary of state — “the United States is back.” She was keener to intervene in Libya, favored keeping troops on the ground in Iraq and infamously voted for invading Iraq in 2002, before trying to distance herself from that vote during the 2008 presidential primaries.

Obama has sought to end wars and bring troops home. Last month, the president said that U.S. troops could not solve Iraq’s problems and that it’s up to Iraqis to work out a solution.

While Obama has taken flak for what some call his administration's use of “soft power, Clinton has skillfully managed to separate herself from the president, despite once being a key part of his team and directing U.S. foreign policy.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.
Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Sean Sullivan · July 31