Hillary Clinton’s supporters have been banking her “inevitable” presidency on her high approval ratings and huge leads in national polls. But don’t start calling her Madam President yet.
Statistician Nate Silver said Hillary’s chances are a “tossup,” citing how while nearly everyone in the country knows her, only 46 percent give her a favorable approval rating – a point above her unfavorable score. Those numbers have declined significantly since her time as Secretary of State, and are basically where they were at the time she dropped out of the 2008 presidential election.
Between Hillary’s inevitable inability to respond quickly to the next Clinton scandal and her challenge in running a sufficient 21st century campaign, her numbers are likely to continue to ebb and flow. It is unlikely, however, that they will move much from the mid-forties over the long term.
Also, her polling numbers are deceiving.
Yes, she does beat every Republican candidate handily, from Jeb Bush and Rand Paul by a margin of 7.4 percent to Ben Carson by 10.7 percent. All the likely Republican nominees are well out of the margin of error and at first glance appear headed to being trounced nationally by Hillary.
But national polling doesn’t account for much.
In November 2012, Mitt Romney was nearly tied with President Obama in national polling, having a 0.7 percent deficit in polls; he went on to lose by a 3.9 percent margin. Even though the popular-vote race was neck-and-neck till the very end, Romney’s landslide loss in the Electoral College was ultimately predictable, in part because nationwide polling can be deceiving in close races.
Going into the last week of the election, Romney was performing badly in nearly every major swing state. As it turned out, he lost every swing state where he was in a polling deficit: Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Virginia. Florida was an exception, as Romney was polling ahead there due to bad polls by Mason Dixon and the Florida Times-Union.
Thus, Hillary is polling in the margin of error in states that Obama carried fairly easily, save Florida. And she is doing it at a time when she should still be popular with most Americans. Nonetheless, more voters are saying no to Hillary than did to Obama in 2012. She faces the uphill task of trying to win over people who already know her and already have an opinion of her.
While these numbers are premature, Hillary’s election will not be as easy as many think. Far from a coronation, 2016 looks a lot more competitive than the last two cycles.