Democrat Leaners Prefer Clinton to Obama in Poll

A plurality of Democratic-leaning voters would prefer Bill Clinton at the top of the presidential ticket even as they support President Barack Obama.

Forty-nine percent of Democrats and independents who lean that way said that “if it were possible” they “wish” Clinton were this year’s candidate, compared with 48 percent who said they didn’t, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 21-24 shows.

The results are more a testament to Clinton’s popularity than dissatisfaction with Obama. The former president ranked as the most popular national political figure tested, scoring a favorability rating of 64 percent among all Americans compared with 29 percent who view him unfavorably.

Obama is viewed favorably by 52 percent of the public while Republican challenger Mitt Romney has a 43 percent favorable rating, the poll shows.

“In spite of scandals up to and including impeachment, Bill Clinton’s perceived ability to run the country was never seriously damaged,” said J. Ann Selzer, referencing a job approval that never fell below 50 percent in the Gallup Poll during his second term, when he faced the most serious challenges. Selzer is president of Selzer & Co. in West Des Moines, Iowa, which conducted the poll for Bloomberg.

Clinton Bounce

Clinton’s standing on the national political stage was cemented Sept. 5 during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he used an array of budget and economic statistics to defend Obama’s economic record. Even Republican nominee Mitt Romney took note of the force of Clinton’s speech when he appeared earlier this week at a global conference in New York sponsored by the former president.

After a friendly introduction by Clinton, Romney said: “If there is one thing we’ve learned in this election season, by the way, it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good. All I’ve got to do now is wait a couple days, to wait for that bounce to happen.”

According to the poll, Clinton’s defense of Obama is working with the public.

When asked whether they agreed with the former president’s position that Obama has “made things better” or with Republican running mate Paul Ryan’s argument that the administration’s policies have “made things worse,” 51 percent of Americans side with Clinton compared with 40 percent who agree with Ryan.

When a similar question about the top of the ticket was posed to likely Republican voters and independents who lean that way, just 27 percent said they wished Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, had top billing instead of Romney.

Political Makeover

The findings represent a political makeover for Clinton, 66, whose affair with a White House intern led to his impeachment and made him an outcast during his party’s national convention in 2000.

It also illustrates the degree to which Democrats have become nostalgic about the economic growth of the Clinton era of the 1990s, which saw the creation of 21 million jobs. Forgotten at times are the partisan battles that led to multiple, partial government shutdowns.

“He was able to work with the Republicans and Democrats,” said poll participant Philippe Muller, 64, a technology consultant who lives in North Hanover, Massachusetts. “There was a lot more collaboration between the two groups that we are not seeing today.”

In an uncertain time with a national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, Selzer said Clinton also represents stability.

“He’s a known quantity and that may equate with certainty,” she said. “At this point, voters wish they knew more and Bill Clinton fills that gap.”

Younger Democrats

Younger Democrats were more likely to say they wished Clinton were running, something of an irony given the strong support Obama had among the youth vote four years ago. Among those under 35 years old, 63 percent took that view.

In another sign of the former president’s popularity, the Obama campaign’s most-aired TV ad features Clinton talking about the “clear choice” for voters in the Nov. 6 election. The spot ran 15,607 times from Aug. 24 through Sept. 24, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, on national cable networks as well as on stations aimed at voters in swing states.

The Clinton-Obama relationship has been a complicated one. Clinton was outraged by Obama’s treatment of his wife, Hillary Clinton, during the 2008 primary campaign and miffed that Obama didn’t often seek his advice until after the Democrats’ losses in the 2010 midterm elections. Relations have since warmed and Clinton has become one of Obama’s top surrogates and supporters.

Bloomberg’s telephone survey sample size was 1,007, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Responses to questions regarding the top of the tickets included 445 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 491 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, with margins of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points and 4.4 percentage points.

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