Hillary Clinton reaches new heights of political popularity

January 23, 2013

As she heads to Capitol Hill this morning to testify regarding the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, Hillary Clinton has something her former legislative colleagues lack: the broad support of the American public.

Fully 67 percent of all Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll now express favorable views of the outgoing secretary of state, a record high in the survey for Clinton, albeit by a single percentage point. By contrast, just 19 percent of people said they approved of the way Congress was doing its job in a Post-ABC poll released last week.


Clinton has nearly unanimous support from fellow Democrats -- 91 percent -- in the new poll, also a career best. She also scores a gaudy 65 percent approval score among independents and more than one in three (37 percent) of Republicans believe she is doing a good job. That's more than double the number of Republicans who approve of the way President Obama is doing his job.

Republican antipathy toward Clinton has declined significantly in recent years. As recently as April 2008, 84 percent of Republicans said they had unfavorable views of the then-candidate for president. At the time, that number included 70 percent of Republicans who held "strongly unfavorable" impressions. Now, fewer than half that number -- 32 percent -- have intensely negative views.

The modest Republican support for Clinton comes as she prepares to testify today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The issue has galvanized many Republicans who have called for more transparency from the Obama Administration about what they knew and when they knew it.

The congressional Republicans aimed at quizzing the former first lady, however, are weighed down by low ratings. In the previous Post-ABC poll, just 24 percent offered approval  of the way the GOP members of Congress were doing their jobs. Moreover, only 39 percent of Republicans gave positive marks to their own party's representatives; 58 percent said they disapproved.

Clinton's popularity not only dwarfs those of congressional Republicans but are also significantly stronger than those of Vice President Joe Biden, who, like Clinton, is mentioned as a possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.

Overall, 48 percent view Biden favorably, and 37 percent see him in unfavorable terms. Those numbers mark a bit of a revival for the vice president, who had slumped to an even score (43 percent favorable; 43 percent unfavorable) in advance of the party nominating conventions over the summer.


Some 65 percent of political independents have favorable views of Clinton; 42 percent see Biden in a positive light. Clinton also draws far better among Republican women: GOP women divide 45 to 48 percent on Clinton, but break decidedly negative on Biden, 20 percent favorable, 70 percent unfavorable. Republican men are overwhelmingly negative about both potential Democratic contenders.

Biden also remains a far less-well-known figure than is Clinton in some key groups. More than a third of Hispanics express no opinion of the long-time Delaware senator, as do about one in four of those aged 18 to 39.

The poll was conducted January 16 to 20 among a random national sample of 1,033 adults. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

LaPierre says Obama made 'mockery': NRA head Wayne LaPierre went after Obama on Tuesday night, arguing that the president's line about "absolutism" in his inaugural address was misguided.

Speaking to an award dinner in Reno, Nev., LaPierre said that “absolutes do exist, words do have meaning in language and in law.” He also said Obama made a "mockery" of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

"(Gun rights) are God-given freedoms," he said. "They belong to us in the United States of America as our birthright. No government gave them to us and no government can ever take them away."

In his address Monday, the president pushed for Congress to act on his priorities and pushes it away from "absolutism" -- a term that seemed directed at Republicans in particular.

"For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay," Obama said. "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

Debt ceiling vote today: Besides Clinton's Benghazi testimony, the other big political event today is the House's scheduled vote on a three-month debt ceiling extension.

The bill won't actually raise the debt ceiling, but will instead simply ignore it until May 18, in addition to forcing lawmakers to pass a new budget or risk not getting their paychecks.

The bill has gotten the stamp of approval (or, at least, no opposition) from the conservative Club for Growthconservative GOP lawmakers, the White House and Senate Democrats. So it seems likely to pass by a wide margin.

Fixbits:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he has instructed the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up Obama's gun proposals.

new ad from the American Future Fund hits Defense Secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel's ethics.

Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign is finally debt-free.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) approval rating is at 74 percent now, with 79 percent of New Jerseyans giving him the thumbs-up for his rant against House Speaker John Boehner and Republicans in Congress. Also, 68 percent said he deserves reelection this year.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) says his wife offered to stay with him if he wanted to run for president. The two are separated now.

Ron Paul declines to endorse a supporter of his over RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, has been cleared by the Pentagon's inspector general. Allen was found to have exchanged communications with the same Tampa socialite whose complaint led to the disclosure of Gen. David Petraeus's affair.

A new automated poll from GOP pollster Harper Polling shows Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) leading Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) 50-32 in a prospective Senate matchup. Capito is running for the seat; Rahall hasn't decided.

An automated poll from Democratic pollster PPP shows Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) leading all GOP comers, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) would be the favorite in the Republican primary.

A former aide to Bachmann's presidential campaign continues to allege improprieties.

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reportedly recommended his former Senate colleague, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M), for his job. The one big problem is that if Udall were picked, GOP Gov. Susana Martinez could appoint a Republican to replace him.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) jokes about waterboarding Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) at his secretary of state confirmation hearing.

Lance Armstrong may avoid the wrath of at least one group: Congress.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, as expected, is leaving his post.

Must-reads:

"They hate me, they really hate me" -- John Dickerson, CBS News

"Va. Republicans’ move on redistricting draws criticism" -- Laura Vozella, Washington Post

"Reid Throws Filibuster Ball Into GOP's Court" -- Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call

Cohen is director of polling for Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Craighill is a pollster with Capital Insight, as is Scott Clement, who contributed to this report.

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Sean Sullivan · January 22, 2013