Hillary Clinton is even less popular now than when she was running for president.
Just 39 percent of Americans view Clinton favorably, according to a Bloomberg national poll conducted last week and released on Monday. A year ago, when Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee, her favorability was at 43 percent. The former secretary of state is viewed slightly more negatively than President Donald Trump, who has historically low poll numbers for a president this early in his administration.
That puts Clinton at odds with every losing presidential candidate since 1992. Except for Clinton, the defeated candidate saw an increase in favorability ratings after Election Day, according to Gallup data.
The Bloomberg poll didn’t get into reasons for Clinton’s decline in favorability. But there is, of course, one thing that sets her apart from the pack of failed candidates: Clinton is a woman.
In follow-up interviews, Bloomberg poll respondents said their negative feelings about Clinton had nothing to do with her loss. Instead, they emphasized how unlikable they consider Clinton ― echoing the opinions of many voters during the 2016 campaign.
“She did not feel authentic or genuine to me,” Chris Leininger, 29, an insurance agent from Fountain Valley, California, told Bloomberg. “She was hard to like.”
That’s neither an unusual nor a surprising sentiment. Women with strong ambitions and opinions typically take a likability hit, Colleen Ammerman, director of Harvard Business School’s Gender Initiative, told HuffPost.
A mountain of research on women leaders has found that the idea of a powerful woman runs counter to most people’s expectations for what’s considered feminine ― quiet, supportive, nurturing and definitely not ambitious.
The disconnect puts female leaders in what’s known as the double-bind ― strong bosses are penalized for not acting “like women,” and those who lean the other way and try to display more characteristically feminine traits are penalized for being weak leaders.
Clinton’s probably the best-known example of this phenomenon. She’s been criticized for being too loud, but also for smiling too much.
In the past, Clinton’s favorability ratings tended to go up when she was not actively running for office. In December 2012, when she was secretary of state, 70 percent of Americans viewed Clinton positively, according to Bloomberg.
But since her loss in November, Clinton has stayed in the public eye and has continued to voice her opinions. That’s likely stoked anxiety and discomfort among Americans, Ammerman said.
Clinton opened up about why she thinks she lost to Trump in an interview in April with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and again in May in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at a conference.
Clinton said she took personal responsibility for her defeat, but also cited the last-minute announcement from then-FBI Director James Comey of a reopened investigation into her emails as a decisive factor in Trump’s victory. She’s not the only one who’s cited Comey’s letter as a potent October surprise leading to her loss.
Yet the comments were met with rage and disbelief from certain corners, writes Rebecca Traister in New York magazine.
Here’s how Gersh Kuntzman put it in the Daily News: “Hey, Hillary Clinton, shut the f―― up and go away already.”
New York Times politics reporter Glenn Thrush tweeted “mea culpa-not so much.” Countless others rage-tweeted at Clinton ― the audacity of her trying to analyze her loss.
Ammerman said there was an element of gendered backlash in the response. Clinton’s willingness to be vocal about being ambitious and wanting to win did little to endear her to the Americans already uncomfortable with a woman audacious enough to want to be president.
It’s hard not to see the sexism in the response, though certainly many of these men aren’t aware of it. “The idea that she shouldn’t mention the Comey letter when the entire nation and the most respected statisticians are considering its impact is so strange,” Amanpour told Traister later. “If she were a man, would she be allowed to mention it? As a woman, I am offended by the double standards applied here. Everyone shrieks that Hillary was a bad candidate, but was Trump a good candidate?”
You could argue that we live in a highly polarized time, and perhaps that’s why public opinion has not bounced back in Clinton’s favor. But other Democrats haven’t taken a popularity hit. In fact, former President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden have both seen their favorability ratings rise since November in Bloomberg’s polling.
Most losing presidential candidates have an easier time and a more generous reception from the public. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who largely disappeared from view after he lost the 2012 presidential election, saw a 4-point increase in favorability after his defeat. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) stayed in the public eye as a senator after his presidential loss in 2008, and his numbers shot up significantly. Before the election, 50 percent of Americans viewed him favorably. After he lost to Obama, McCain’s favorability rose to 64 percent.
To be sure, none of those men lost to Trump, an inexperienced and incompetent political leader feared and disliked by a bipartisan array of people. And, as Traister pointed out, it’s easy and natural to blame the whole Trump thing on Clinton, rather than to dissect the myriad other reasons for his rise.
It’s painful to re-litigate the election for a lot of people ― though Trump certainly keeps trying ― and maybe that contributes to the feeling of wanting Clinton to just disappear.
Having lived through the 2000 election, I don’t remember this level of vitriol and blame leveled at Al Gore ― arguably as stiff and awkward a presidential candidate as Clinton. Indeed, just seven years after his loss to George W. Bush ― at a time when the country was struggling under that administration ― Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize.
There’s more to the Clinton negativity than Trump backlash, as this Bloomberg poll makes clear.
One poll respondent, 46-year-old Robert Taylor, voted for Clinton and said in a followup interview that he doesn’t blame her for Trump.
“I think my negativity about her would be there whether Trump was elected or not,” he said.
The Bloomberg poll was conducted by Selzer & Co. It surveyed 1,001 adults from July 8 to July 12, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cellphones.