Hillary Clinton’s Strengths: Record at State, Toughness, Honesty
But Benghazi Seen as Top Negative
If she runs for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton would bring a number of potential strengths to the race, from her tenure as secretary of state to her perceived toughness and honesty. Fully 67% of Americans approve of the job she did as secretary of state, while majorities say she is tough (69%) and honest (56%).
The public also rejects the notion that Clinton is unlikable – a change from the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. In a memorable moment from that contest, then-candidate Barack Obama turned to Clinton during a debate and said sarcastically, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Today, just 36% say Clinton is “hard to like”; a majority (57%) says that phrase does not describe her. During the 2008 primary season, about half of voters found Clinton hard to like (51% in March 2008).
However, the new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Feb. 27-Mar. 2 among 1,002 adults, finds that Clinton is not widely seen as having new ideas. About half (49%) say the phrase “having new ideas” describes Clinton, while 40% say it does not; 11% offer no opinion.
And while Clinton’s performance at the State Department is viewed positively, her handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate at Benghazi, Libya registers as a negative aspect of her background.
When people are asked to name in their own words the most negative thing about Clinton’s career, “Benghazi” is the most frequent response, cited by 15% of respondents. Among Republicans, 28% volunteer Benghazi as the most negative aspect of her career.
On the other hand, Clinton’s tenure at the State Department is mentioned most frequently as her biggest positive (by 12%), while 8% cite her role as Bill Clinton’s wife or the way she dealt with the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The survey finds that about half of Americans (51%) want to see Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016, while 43% say they would not want to see her run. If Clinton decides to run, however, most say they would consider voting for her. Nearly six-in-ten say there is a good chance (35%) or some chance (24%) they would vote for Clinton. About four-in-ten adults (38%) – including 74% of Republicans – say there is no chance they would vote for her.
Among Democrats, an overwhelming share of liberals (87%) want to see Hillary Clinton run and nearly as many (83%) say there is a good chance they would vote for her. Fewer conservative and moderate Democrats want Clinton to run (69%); 60% say there is a good chance they would vote for her.
Opinions about the potential impact of Clinton’s gender on her candidacy have become more positive since her first try for the presidency in 2008. Currently, 33% say that if Clinton runs for president, the fact that she is a woman would help her; 20% say it would hurt her and 44% say it would make no difference. In early January 2008, when asked a slightly different question (would Clinton’s gender hurt her if she were the Democratic nominee), more said it would hurt than help (35% vs. 24%).
Both women and men are more likely to say that Clinton’s gender is an asset than did so in the 2008 survey. Currently, 39% of women and 45% of men say that Clinton’s gender would help her; 19% and 14%, respectively, think it would hurt her. In January 2008, far more women thought that Clinton’s gender would hurt rather than help (38% vs. 22%). Men were more evenly divided at that time (27% help, 31% hurt).
Clinton’s involvement in her husband’s administration also is viewed more positively than negatively. In the current survey, 42% say Hillary Clinton’s involvement in Bill Clinton’s administration would help her, compared with 17% who think it would hurt her; 39% say it wouldn’t make a difference. In January 2008, during the Democratic primaries, 42% said her involvement in her husband’s presidency would help, 29% said it would hurt, while 25% said it would not make a difference to voters.
Republicans and Democrats offer similar views of the impact of Clinton’s gender on a possible presidential run. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to think that her involvement in Bill Clinton’s presidency would help her (52% vs. 34%). But even among Republicans, only about a quarter (26%) view Clinton’s involvement in her husband’s administration as a possible negative.
Perceptions of Hillary Clinton’s Age
When asked an open-ended question about how old Hillary Clinton is, 57% of respondents offer an age in the 60s and 31% give an age in the 50s; very few think she is 70 or older (3%) or under 50 (6%).
In fact, the public tends to underestimate Hillary Clinton’s age (she is 66). About eight-in-ten (83%) give an age of 65 or younger, 2% volunteer her exact age, and just 12% give an age of 67 or higher. The median age offered is 60.
Younger adults (under age 30) are the most likely to underestimate Hillary Clinton’s age: fully 53% think she is in her 50s while another 16% say she is under 50. Older adults are more accurate, with majorities giving an age in the 60s.
There are only modest divides in views of Clinton’s age by party, though Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to give an age in the 50s (32% vs. 22%).
Partisan Views of Clinton’s Traits
Nearly seven-in-ten say Hillary Clinton is described as tough (69%) and 56% say she is honest. In addition, most reject the notion that she is hard to like – just 36% say this. Her image is not as strong when it comes to the concept of having new ideas: 49% say this trait describes Hillary Clinton, while 40% say it does not.
While Republicans hold a negative opinion of Clinton generally, most (55%) say that she is tough. Far fewer Republicans view Clinton as having new ideas (31%) or honest (30%); 60% say she is hard to like.
Nearly seven-in-ten independents say Hillary Clinton is tough (68%) and 52% say she is honest; somewhat fewer (44%) say she has new ideas. About four-in-ten independents (39%) say she is hard to like.
Democrats hold positive views of Hillary Clinton across all the traits tested in the survey: broad majorities see her as tough (81%), honest (81%), and as having new ideas (69%); few see her as hard to like (20%). Liberal Democrats are especially likely to associate positive traits with Hillary Clinton.
Women express significantly more positive views than men of Clinton on two dimensions: 54% of women say she has new ideas, compared with 43% of men. And 74% of women say Clinton is tough; a smaller majority of men (64%) say this trait applies to Clinton.
Positive Views of Clinton’s Job as Secretary
Overall, 67% approve of Hillary Clinton’s job performance as secretary of state, while just 25% disapprove. Fully 91% of Democrats approve of the way she handled her job as secretary, as do a majority (64%) of independents. About half of Republicans (53%) disapprove of her job performance as secretary of state while 39% approve.
But Clinton’s tenure at the State Department also brings to mind some negative feelings among the public, particularly about the Benghazi attack. Overall, 15% of the public say Benghazi is the most negative thing about her career, with nearly three-in-ten Republicans (28%) and 8% of Democrats stating this.
When it comes to other views of Clinton, 11% of Democrats and 4% of Republicans mention her husband or her handling of the Monica Lewinsky affair as a positive. But 7% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans view Bill Clinton as the most negative thing about Hillary Clinton’s career.