You would think that with President Donald Trump’s approval ratings at historic lows for a first-year president, the candidate he beat in the 2016 election might see a similar improvement in their popularity numbers – a sort-of buyer’s remorse bump.
That has not been the case with Hillary Clinton. In fact, the opposite has been true.
Hillary Clinton’s approval dipped to 36% in a December Gallup poll, the lowest mark ever measured for the former senator and first lady in the survey. Her unfavorable ratings – at 61% – also marked a new high (or low) for Clinton.
Given how long Clinton has been in public life, it is saying something that she is now at her lowest ebb. It’s also somewhat inexplicable given that Clinton’s past popularity troughs have been directly tied to times she has been in the heat of a campaign.
Clinton’s previous low point in Gallup data, for example, was in late August/early September 2016 – as that presidential campaign was in full roar. Typically, when Clinton is either out of office or not running for anything, her numbers are significantly better. For the four years that Clinton served as Secretary of State, her approval rating often topped 60%.
Clinton, herself, has acknowledged this fact.
“When I have a job, I have really high approval ratings,” she told Vox’s Ezra Klein in a July 2016 interview. “When I’m actually doing the work, I get reelected with 67 percent of the vote running for re-election in the Senate. When I’m secretary of state, I have [a] 66 percent approval rating. And then I seek a job, I run for a job, and all of the discredited negativity comes out again, and all of these arguments and attacks start up.”
So, what explains the fact that Clinton’s numbers haven’t improved since the end of the 2016 race – and, in fact, have dipped further downward?
Like with all poll findings, it’s impossible to pinpoint a single reason that explains it. But, here are 4 theories that might explain Clinton’s poll problems.
1. The 2016 race has never really ended
On Monday, President Trump saw fit to mention his 2016 victory while laying out his national security strategy for the country. Trump talks about his “electoral landslide” on an, at least, weekly basis – ensuring that people never forget about what all sides agree was an incredibly nasty campaign.
It’s a living, breathing example of William Faulkner’s famous line: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” If people feel as though they can never, really, put the 2016 campaign in their rearview mirror, they can never begin to move on from it.
2. Clinton isn’t sorry
The publicity tour around Clinton’s memoir of the campaign – “What Happened?” – had a very clear message from Clinton: Yes, I lost. But, it’s wasn’t entirely (or even close to entirely) my fault. Time and again this year, Clinton made the point that if not for then FBI director James Comey’s decision to re-open the investigation into her private email server a little more than a week before the election, she would have won. Ditto for Russia’s attempted meddling in the election.
The American public tends to like their losers to acknowledge their role in the loss. I failed and I am sorry. Clinton didn’t really do that. She acknowledged her role in the loss, but was defiant about how a variety of factors – not the least of which was the fact that she is a woman and faced inherent expectations and double standards – also impacted her defeat.
3. She is the last Republican boogeyman
For years and years – long before Clinton ran for president in 2008 and 2016 – she was one of a handful of Democrats that all Republicans a) knew and b) hated. Clinton was in good company a decade ago with Sen. Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and a few others (including Barack Obama for a time). But almost all of those people are either gone or diminished in terms of national profile. Clinton, due to the recency of her 2016 loss – and, per #1, the fact that it’s never really left us – remains a powerful uniter of Republicans against her.
That fact is born out if you look at the party splits in Clinton’s approval rating. Her numbers among Democrats are virtually unchanged from 6 months ago – 79% approval then, 78% now. But, her numbers among Republicans, which were never good, have fallen even further; just 5% of GOPers approve of Clinton now as compared to 11% in June 2017.
4. We’re still too close to it all
It’s been a year and a few days since Clinton lost one of the most knockdown, drag-out presidential races ever. Given everything that has happened, politically speaking, between then and now, it feels like about 10 years. But, it’s only been one. It might simply be too soon to expect Clinton’s numbers to begin the long path toward popularity that past presidents (and presidential nominees) have trod once they are out office. We may just be standing too close to the painting to properly analyze it. Maybe in 2 years or 5 years, Clinton’s approval rating will be well back over 50% and we’ll all wonder what the hubbub in 2017 was all about.