The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Is Hillary Clinton ‘likable enough’? And does it even matter?

Hillary Rodham Clinton contemplates during a question-and-answer session with Victor Dodig, president and chief executive of CIBC, at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Winnipeg on Jan. 21. (John Woods/Canadian Press via Associated Press)
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A new poll of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary shows pretty much what every other poll has shown: Hillary Rodham Clinton leads by a very wide margin.

The University of New Hampshire survey shows the former secretary of state taking 58 percent of the vote. It also shows about six in 10 likely Democratic primary voters consider her the strongest leader (58 percent) and about two-thirds say she would have the best odds of winning in the general election (66 percent) and has the most experience to be president (68 percent).

But then there are a couple of other ways in which the poll asked voters to compare Clinton to her fellow Democrats. In contrast to the numbers above, only about one-third viewed Clinton as the "most believable" (31 percent), and about the same proportion labeled her the "most likable" (32 percent).

If you just had a little twinge of deja vu, it's because this question has stalked Clinton before. Back in the 2008 Democratic primary, there was plenty of chatter about precisely how likable she was and whether it was holding her campaign back.

The culmination of this was Clinton being asked -- at a New Hampshire debate, no less -- about these criticisms. "Well that hurts my feelings," she deadpanned. Barack Obama then interjected, in a moment of unhelpful candor, that Clinton was "likable enough."

So, to recap, six in 10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters think Clinton is their candidate, but just three in 10 say she's the most likable.

On some level, we'll concede, this is kind of dumb. Many think that the likability question is asked of Clinton only because she's a woman, and that men aren't held to the same standards. My colleague Nia-Malika Henderson noted this alleged dichotomy last month, with one noted expert saying voters do indeed judge female candidates on likability in a way that doesn't apply to men.

But regardless of whether it's fair, it's a question that has followed Clinton. And even if it's a double standard, it's still a potentially real factor for her when it comes to getting people to vote for her -- at least theoretically.

The good news for Clinton is that, at least at the outset of the 2016 campaign, it's less an issue than it was for her in 2008.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year showed that 36 percent of Americans said Clinton was "hard to like." That number was 51 percent in March 2008 and 53 percent in April 2008, at the height of her primary contest with Obama.

But it's not just Republicans who consider this a problem for her. Twenty percent of Democrats said she was "hard to like," along with 39 percent of independents. Those are real numbers.

The question from there, though, is does it even matter? Even if it is a hindrance for Clinton, it seems pretty unlikely that it would lose her a primary in which she is the overwhelming favorite. From there, in the general election, partisanship largely takes over, and there are very few voters who are actually up for grabs and could potentially be swayed by whatever likability issues Clinton has.

And even if a fair amount of swing voters think Clinton is "hard to like," that doesn't necessarily mean they wouldn't vote for her. Other considerations, after all, do come into play.

The likability thing might have hurt Clinton somewhat in a primary with the buzzy and very personally likable Obama. And it's possible that it could flare up again as the 2016 campaign gets off the ground.

But without that kind of Obama-esque contrast and with many potentially major issues on the table ahead of the general election, we have a hard time seeing lots of people voting against Clinton because they don't want to have a beer with her.