Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hillary's favorability takes a hit, and Chris Christie's her most formidable 2016 opponent (PPP)

The Governor of New Jersey had reason to rejoice last week when Public Policy Polling released a poll summarizing all of the major possible 2016 presidential candidates favorability ratings. Not only is Christie the most liked national politician of the 18 PPP chose to test (he has a net 28 pt favorability rating, with 51% viewing him favorably, 23% unfavorably), but he is the only Republican that even comes close to giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in a hypothetical 2016 match-up (trailing her just 44-42%). But the biggest story from the PPP release seems to have been lost by most of the media and punditry - Hillary Clinton has taken a pretty fair hit in her favorability rating.

In a survey taken January 3-6, 2013, Clinton clocks in with an impressive natonal favorable/unfavorable rating of 54/39% (+15 pts), but that's down from PPP's previous survey in December that measured her at 57/36% (+21 pts), and significantly down from the 65+% ratings she enjoyed throughout much of 2012. In fact, her January PPP rating is the lowest measured by any polling firm since last April. Below is a chart of Hillary Clinton's national favorability rating since 2011, according to Talking Points memo, The Argo Journal, and assorted polling:

Over the course of the last two years, Clinton has averaged a very strong 61/30% favorable/unfavorable rating. Though that impressive average only serves to highlight how poor Hillary's current PPP rating is comparatively. In fact, the current PPP numbers are Hillary's 2nd worst since January 2011 (Rasmussen measured Hillary's favorability at 53/42% in April 2012, the only pollster to show Hillary weaker than PPP for the last two years).

But what accounts for the apparent sudden fall in Hillary's favorabilty? Of course, there's always the chance that PPP could simply be wrong. But assuming they're right, what has happened between now and December to explain the collapse? Benghazi has been in the news since September, and Hillary Clinton took public responsibility for the tragedy in October. But her favorability throughout last fall was significantly above PPP's 54/39% finding, and no news has emerged from the region in the meantime to explain a drop in popularity. Another possibility could pertain to Hillary's recent health problems, though one would think such an event would generate sympathy, and not negative feelings. Perhaps the answer is something less obvious, like the recent onslaught of media attention re: her post-State Department plans have allowed Americans to view her through a more partisan lens again. Either way, +15 is no +31 (PPP net rating vs. average net rating over the last 2 years). Not to mention her less-than-stellar rating with Independents (48/41%).

Weaker favorability rating notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton leads all four of the Republicans she's matched against in a hypothetical 2016 race, three of them by significant margins.

Rep. Paul Ryan -  39%                   Sen. Marco Rubio -  37%
Sec. Hillary Clinton -  53%              Sec. Hillary Clinton -  51%

Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush -  37%            Gov. Chris Christie -  42%
Sec. Hillary Clinton -  51%             Sec. Hillary Clinton -  44%
Clearly, Hillary is well positioned to win at this early stage of the 2016 race. Though a close look at PPP's internals show a potential for weakness in the event Chris Christie becomes the GOP nominee.  Christie leads Hillary by a significant margin among Independent voters (47-29%) and also receives more cross-over support from Democrats than Hillary does from Republicans (14 vs. 11%). Both Christie and Clinton attract an identical, 76% from their own parties. Clinton's narrow 44-42% overall lead stems from a large Democratic advantage in PPP's poll respondents. Just two months ago, as Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 3.8 points nationally, exit pollsters found a partisan identification advantage for the Democrats of 6 pts, or D+6. PPP, however, measures party I.D. at D+9. As a result, Clinton leads the overall race against Christie by 2 pts, despite trailing with Independent voters by 18 pts. If PPP found partisan identification to be the same as it was in November, Christie would have led Clinton 43-41%:

The below chart indicates how Clinton would do against each GOP challenger when PPP's party I.D. is reweighted to both 2012 and 2004 turnout. Spoiler alert: She leads in every single scenario but the one's involving Chris Christie:

. . . In other words, if your name isn't Chris Christie and you're a Republican hoping to become President in 2016, you have your work cut out for you if Hillary's your opponent. In fact, your best hope would be if she chose not to run altogether. Because if she does run, even in the highly improbable event that PPP found party I.D. on par with 2004 turnout, she would still lead every GOP contender besides Christie (who would top her 46-40% in that scenario).

There's still plenty of time before the 2016 primary really begins to heat up. And it does appear that as time goes by, Hillary's favorability rating may be taking a hit. But regardless, she's still the best positioned of any politician of EITHER party to win the presidency in 2016, at least as of today, with Christie hot on her heals.

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