Political Aptitude Test

June 19, 1996



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Finally, The Answer

A Different Kind Of First Lady

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (June 20) -- We're constantly examining the public image of presidents. But what about first ladies? They're not elected, but they often have a lot of power.

This week's question: Which first lady's public image has been more negative than her husband's?

Was it Eleanor Roosevelt? Rosalynn Carter? Nancy Reagan? Barbara Bush? Or Hillary Rodham Clinton?

And the answer is...Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Traditionally, first ladies have been above politics. Even when the president is in serious political trouble, the first lady stands above it all.

When President Carter's job rating during the so-called "malaise crisis" of 1979 stood at a meager 32 percent, First Lady Rosalynn Carter's rating was almost twice as high, 59 percent.

In the bad days of 1992, George Bush's job approval rating was 45 percent. Barbara Bush's was 81 percent, again almost twice as favorable.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is different. She's the first first lady with her own independent professional career. She's a longtime political activist. She's had a unique policy-making role in the Clinton Administration.

From the outset, her favorability ratings have been lower than the president's. Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn't pretend to be above politics. She's in the thick of it, just like her husband. And the price she pays is that she's just as controversial as her husband. Liberals like her almost as much as they like the president; 64 percent of liberals give her a favorable rating, compared to 70 percent who like the president.

Conservatives like her even less than they like the president. Only 35 percent give her a favorable rating, compared to 40 percent for Bill Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton elicits the most partisan response of any first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. She was also a political activist, but one who never had an official policy-making role.

It was Harry Truman who said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Well, Mrs. Clinton has stayed out of the kitchen. There's no making tea and baking cookies for her.

This story originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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