Clinton Trumps Republican Rivals on Leadership, Vision for 2016

The latest Bloomberg Politics poll finds that Americans like Hillary Clinton and her government experience.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton are viewed in the audience as U.S. President Barack Obama, who is in New York City for the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 23, 2014 in New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Former first lady, senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would enter the presidential race with positive views of her past experience and personal traits, making her a formidable contender against lesser-known Republican rivals.

Greater numbers of Americans view her as a strong leader, who has a better vision for the future, shares their values, and empathizes with their concerns, according to a new Bloomberg Politics poll. Among the Republicans tested against her, former Republican nominee Mitt Romney has the best name recognition and strengths to challenge her standing as this early stage in the 2016 race. Romney, however, has repeatedly said he won't campaign for the presidency for a third time. 

With poll participants saying she is better than her potential Republican opponents on these four qualities, including the traditionally Republican strength of leadership, Clinton is positioned quite differently than President Barack Obama was during his re-election bid. In 2012, Romney won by 13 percentage points among voters who said the quality that mattered most in deciding how they voted for president was a candidate who "shares your values," by 23 points among those looking for a "strong leader," and by nine percentage points among those who prioritized a candidate with a "vision for the future," according to the election's exit polls with voters that were collected by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, a consortium of national media outlets. For Obama, a 63-percentage-point lead among voters who most valued a candidate who "cares about people like me" was a key attribute that helped propel him to victory. 

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“Her image and reputation with voters has been defined, and in some ways redefined, by her service as Secretary of State, where voters saw someone who was a strong leader in representing our country,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic polling expert who worked for Clinton’s unsuccessful primary campaign against Obama. “If she runs, she comes to this election in much better shape then she did in the 2008."

While Clinton lacks Obama’s overwhelming empathy advantage, she's better positioned two years before the election in every other attribute. When respondents were asked which potential candidate did a better job on each of four qualities,  she runs seven to 20 points ahead on leadership when pitted against former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Romney. Though Clinton has yet to provide a detailed account of how she'd guide the nation as president, Americans think she has more of a vision for the future than any in the Republican field. When measured on that attribute, she leads Romney by 6 points, Paul by 10 points, Bush by 15 points, Christie by 17 points, and Cruz by 21 points.

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A different story emerges when the potential presidential match-ups are tested among what likely voters say they value most. Clinton lags behind all the Republicans among likely voters who named “sharing your values” as their top quality in selecting a candidate. One reason for the shift is that a plurality–41 percent—of Republicans identified "shared values" as their most important trait. Maryanna Preston, a Florida clinical psychologist who favors Republican candidates, said she found Clinton untrustworthy. “I would not want her running this country,” she said. “She is a power-hungry woman wanting to be the first woman president of the United States. I think she’s dangerous.”

Still, in a general election showdown, Clinton wins against all five potential Republican candidates among likely voters, though she never breaks the 50 percent mark. Her margin is narrowest against Bush, Christie, and Romney, with a six-percentage-point lead. She beats Paul by eight points and Cruz by 13 points. 

Clinton is far better known than most of her possible Republican challengers, with the exception of Romney. That familiarity, some Republicans argue, makes her appear to hold a more formidable position today. “She has 100 percent name ID. Among the potential candidates for 2016, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are the only ones who even come close,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. According to the poll, just 6 percent of American say they're "not sure" whether they'd rank  her favorably or not, compared with 13 percent who said the same of Romney. All of the other Republicans tested were not known well enough to be rated by about a third or more of the respondents. “I would have been stunned if any of the Republicans beat Clinton on any measure.”

More than half–52 percent–of Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, a drop from a high of 70 percent in December 2012, less than two months before she left her post as Secretary of State and re-entered the national, partisan political dialogue. That diplomatic background, considered by some Republicans to be a point of weakness, is seen as beneficial by a majority of Americans. More than two out of three view her tenure as Secretary of State, marriage to former President Bill Clinton, and, perhaps as an indication that Americans want an experienced insider in the next president, her service in Washington, as advantageous to Clinton. About six in ten say the same about her previous presidential run and work in the Obama administration. "People get all critical about, ‘oh, so and so‘s a career politician',” said Barbara Rishaw, a deli clerk and self-identified “disillusioned independent” in Nashville, Tenn. “On the other hand, wouldn’t you want to hire someone for a job when they actually have some experience?”

One show of weakness for Clinton: 52 percent viewed her ties to Wall Street as a positive—a ranking that could provide an opening to a populist primary challenger or an avenue for attacks by Republicans. 

The poll of 1,001 U.S. adults was conducted Dec. 3-5 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Results based on the 753 likely voters in the 2016 election have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.


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