Americans say the best or most positive thing about a possible Hillary Clinton presidency — if she were to run and be elected in 2016 — would be her serving as the first female president in the nation’s history. Other positives mentioned by at least 5% of Americans are her experience, that she would bring about change from the previous two administrations, that she would adhere to a Democratic agenda, and that she would be the best choice.
These results are from a Gallup survey conducted March 15-16, which asked a nationally representative sample of Americans to say what would be the best and the worst things about a possible Clinton presidency, if she were to be elected in 2016.
A little less than half of Americans did not give a substantive answer in response to the positive question, and about the same percentage didn’t give a substantive answer to the negative question. This is in large part because the majority of Republicans have no specific thoughts about the best thing about a Clinton presidency, and a majority of Democrats do not have specific responses to the question about the worst aspects of a Clinton presidency.
Americans’ substantive responses can be grouped into three broad categories: personal characteristics, specific issues, and political considerations.
Clearly Clinton’s “unique selling proposition” is that she would be the first woman president. Nearly one in five Americans mention this historic possibility as a positive, including 22% of women, 27% of 18- to 29-year-olds, and 30% of Democrats. A Gallup analysis of a similar question, asked of a representative Gallup Panel sample in 2007, also found that Americans were more likely to mention her being the first woman president than any other positive factor.
Americans mention a number of other positives dealing with her personal characteristics, including her experience, and the perception that she is capable, qualified, and intelligent. Notably, 2% mention that a positive outcome of a Hillary Clinton presidency would be that Bill Clinton would be back in the White House, the same outcome that 3% of Americans see as a negative if she were to be elected.
Americans also indicate as a positive feature of a potential Clinton presidency the change it would provide from the Obama and Bush administrations, and, separately, that it would continue a Democratic agenda and platform.
Relatively few Americans mention specific issues as the best thing about a Clinton presidency. Among those mentioned are healthcare — her signature issue when she became first lady after her husband was elected president in 1992 — jobs, the economy, and immigration.
Diverse View of Negatives Associated With a Hillary Clinton Presidency
Americans’ views of the possible negatives that would be associated with a Hillary Clinton presidency are more diverse than the positive responses. No one single issue dominates to the degree that her being the first woman president does on the plus side.
Americans volunteer a varied list of personal characteristics when asked to think about the negatives if Clinton were to be president. These include a simple perception that she is not qualified, negative reactions to the fact that she would be a woman president, views that she is dishonest, and the fact that her husband, Bill, would be back in the White House.
Two percent of Americans, including 4% of Republicans, specifically mention Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi, Libya, incident that occurred while she was secretary of state — an incident in which the American ambassador and three other Americans were killed. Another 2% mention past scandals and baggage without being specific.
A number of Americans say the most negative thing about a Clinton presidency would be that she is a Democrat and would continue Obama’s Democratic policies and agenda.
As was the case on the positive side of the ledger, specific mentions of her positions on issues are widely diversified with no one issue dominating. Some Americans mention her views on healthcare and foreign policy, while others talk about her views on government spending and the deficit.
Democrats Focus on the Positives, Republicans on the Negatives
Fifty-nine percent of Democrats do not name anything or answer “nothing” in response to the question about negatives associated with a Clinton presidency, while 72% of Republicans do the same when asked to name the most positive thing about a Clinton presidency. Independents are generally close to the sample average in terms of their giving an opinion on both questions — 54% did not have a response or said nothing for the positive outcomes and 48% for the negative outcomes.
Still, all three partisan groups who do offer a response mention the fact that she would be the first woman president — albeit in significantly different percentages. Democrats are the most effusive in their responses, and talk in significant numbers about her experience and that she would further the Democratic agenda. Republicans have fewer positives to offer, but do mention that a Clinton presidency would represent a change from Obama, in addition to her being the first woman president. Independents, in addition to mentioning her being the first woman president, talk about her experience and the change from Obama.
The most frequently mentioned negative views of a Clinton presidency offered by Republicans include that she would be continuing Democratic control of the White House, that she is a Democrat in general, that she got elected in the first place, that she is not qualified, and that she is dishonest. Independents are more likely than Democrats and Republicans to mention her specific views on healthcare, and that Bill Clinton would be back in the White House as negatives. Democrats who do offer a view on the negatives associated with a Clinton presidency talk most about not wanting a woman president, her qualifications, that the polarized and contentious nature of fights with Congress would continue, that Bill would be back in the White House, and her scandals and baggage.
From the American public’s perspective, Hillary Clinton’s greatest selling point going into the 2016 presidential election, should she decide to run, would be the historic fact that, if elected, she would be the first female president in the nation’s history. Other positive perceptions that she and her campaign team could, in theory, use to her advantage are the views that focus on her experience and intelligence. At the same time, Clinton’s team would have to grapple with the fact that many Americans have acquired a negative view of some of her personal characteristics over the years, disagree with her positions on issues, and are simply opposed to having another Democrat in the White House.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 15-16, 2014, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.