If book sales were electoral votes, Hillary Clinton and her husband might be on their way back to the White House. Yet, will her popularity as an author translate into presidential political success? The most recent American Survey sheds some light on where she fits in among current Democratic hopefuls and how she stacks up to President Bush.
In short, Sen. Clinton fills a powerful void within the Democratic Party; but still lags behind Presdent Bush in essential measures related to electoral success. Those are among the important findings of our most recent edition of The American Survey (conducted June 10-12 among 600 registered voters nationwide, margin of error plus/minus 4 percent).
More specifically, we asked three questions that we expect will be good predictors of the eventual outcome of the 2004 election. First, who voters think will win. The results were clear and unsurprising — almost half (46 percent) indicated that the president will win. A little more than a quarter (27 percent) thought the Democratic nominee (whoever it is) will win. That approximate 20 point spread, consistent with the results from the May edition of the survey (47 percent to 23 percent for Mr. Bush), suggests the Democrats face some tough sledding. Interestingly, this was one of the few responses where there was no material difference between the genders (see chart).
The second question was with which of the candidates respondents would prefer to spend an hour. It is nearly axiomatic that voters in an election typically prefer the more likable candidate. Measured against this yardstick, Mrs. Clinton performed well, easily beating all of the Democratic candidates. In fact, her 27 percent share was more than the other Democratic candidates combined (23 percent). Yet, she still placed 10 points behind the president (37 percent). Here, however, the gender gap was most pronounced, with men preferring Mr. Bush by 24 points, andwomenpreferring Mrs. Clinton by two points.
As an interesting side note, “none of the above” which wasn’t even offered as an option, scored as highly (9 percent) as any of the announced Democratic candidates.
Third, we asked who (among political figures) respondents would like children to emulate. The combined Democratic candidates scored a bit better this time, edging into a tie (17 percent) with Mrs. Clinton (17 percent). This time, however, women broke for the president (30 percent to 22 percent).
Again, “none of the above” (once again not an offered option) scored 18 percent. Unfortunately for the Democrats, all of those scores were barely in sight of the president (34 percent).
Finally, we asked about spouses. In an election season that is certain to feature such widely divergent spouses as Teresa Heinz, Hadassah Lieberman, and Laura Bush, it is inconceivable that they will not become the undercard to the main event. For the sake of simplicity, we reduced the question to who people would rather see in the White House in 2005, Laura Bush or Bill Clinton. Mrs. Bush took the former President in a TKO, 52 percent to 34 percent.
Taken in total, the results suggest a few things. First, and most immediately, the president seems to retain a fairly decisive advantage over the Democratic candidates with respect to important factors such as likeability, perceived virtue and (more concretely) electoral momentum. If these trends remain unchanged, the election in 17 months will be a challenging one for the Democrats. Second, the presence of Mrs. Clinton is “whiting out” her colleagues and the party’s eventual nominee. The timing couldn’t be worse for the announced candidates. Now, when they need to begin discussing how they materially differ from the president with respect to ideology and personality, Mrs. Clinton is drawing away critical media attention.