Hillary Clinton remains teflon despite Benghazi

May 21, 2013

Hillary Clinton continues to get heavily positive reviews for her work as secretary of state in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, even after renewed Republican allegations of an Obama administration related to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya last fall.

If the Benghazi controversy has taken any toll at all on Clinton, it's been a small one. Sixty-two percent of all Americans say they approved of the way Clinton handled her job at the state department; just 28 percent disapprove. That's a six percentage point dip from a December Post-ABC poll just before she left the administration. The drop in approval is concentrated among conservatives (down nine points), but she has also slid from 77 to 69 percent among moderates.

Despite the modest erosion in what was sky-high support, Clinton remains among the most popular secretaries of state in recent history, matching or exceeding Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright's popularity and far more popular than Donald Rumsfeld, Warren Christopher and Alexander Haig.

But potential dangers lurk: Americans are widely suspicious of the Obama administration's behavior on Benghazi, with 55 percent in the new poll saying it is "trying to cover up the facts." Fewer, 33 percent, think it is "honestly disclosing what it knows."

In the poll, however, Benghazi skeptics have yet to turn against Clinton, a fact that helps explain her persistent popularity overall. Clinton receives a split verdict -- 44 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove -- among people who think the administration is hiding information. An overwhelming 92 percent of those who think the White House is telling the truth approve of Clinton's job performance.

While Clinton's image appears intact after months of Republican criticism, the continuing debate over Benghazi could prove a damaging barnacle if she chooses to join the 2016 presidential race. Republicans are sure to criticize Clinton's performance on Benghazi as a symbol of incompetence and play on the public's suspicion that the administration has tried to hide the facts. The charge that strikes against a State Department resume that has helped rejuvenate Clinton's ratings after a heated 2008 campaign.

For now, however, Clinton is (still) in the clear.

Scott Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight Director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.
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Chris Cillizza · May 21, 2013