Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hillary wasn't very popular with independents in 2008

That's not just a provocative statement for the sake of it -- there are actually some really interesting numbers suggesting she might not do as well with independents in '16 as you'd immediately assume.

It's almost pointless to look at Hillary's numbers with indies right now (65%/26%), because -- like her relatively strong numbers with Republicans -- they're inflated by her Secretary of State gig which is largely apolitical (or was).

The best place to answer the indie question is by strapping yourself into a time machine and heading back to the 2008 Democratic primary.

If you remember, the narrative about the primary tends to be this -- Hillary and Barack were going head-to-head in a primary that intoxicated the nation. As America fell in love with them, the only drama was that you could choose Mom or Apple Pie, but not both!

Well, for Democrats, maybe, but for indies -- well, as it turns out, it wasn't quite that way.

In fact, during the 2008 primary, Hillary's numbers with independents were pretty underwhelming.

Consider this: In March 2007, Gallup started tracking Hillary's favorable ratings by party ID.

At the time, she entered the contest with a 55% favorable rating with indies -- pretty strong. When did she hit that illustrious number again? Never. She came close (54%) but only after the primary had been decided, June 2008.

Look at the little graph below, via Gallup in 2008. You'll see that Hillary spent nearly the entire primary under 50% with independents.

Now the counter is that the definition of "independent" seems to have changed, as of late, and they're a more conservative breed now.

But no, not then.

Remember, Obama won independents by 8% over John McCain. In 2008, independents weren't disaffected Republicans. They were a pretty strong pro-Obama demographic.

And yet these independents seemed fairly underwhelmed by Clinton when she was involved in her most visible, political run of her life.

Now, of course, everyone knows that popular figures' numbers always dip when they run for office. But look at that dip.

In February of 2008, she stood at 44% with independents; in March at 46%.

She only regained her footing once it looked certain that she'd lose and the normal routine of political sympathy for the close runner-up and "You did a good job, really, you were amazing, even though you lost" headlines came rolling in.

The point of all this is that Hillary might have thrilled Democrats when she last ran for president, but she didn't thrill independents or Republicans. That means she might not again.

One final note: IF she doesn't have a substantial Democratic challenger for 2016, then she could cruise into the general election with stronger numbers. But that does nothing to diminish the point that -- during her only national run -- her numbers dipped with independents when the race was most competitive.

Gallup's 2008 graph: