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January 06, 2006

Hillary, The Blogs & The Base

Over the last few weeks, bloggers have debated the appeal of a potential presidential candidacy by Hillary Clinton to the "base" of the Democratic party.  Today I want to point out some polling data that are relevant to that debate, not because I have strong feelings about Clinton as a candidate, but because this issue gets at a bigger question recently posed by historian and new blogger David Perlmutter:  "Are bloggers 'The People?'" Not surprisingly -- with respect to Hillary Clinton - the answers are hazy, although at least for now the opinions of activist bloggers appear to be at odds with the overwhelming majority of rank and file Democrats. 

Here is a quick summary of the debate.  On one side is the argument articulated by Susan Estrich in her book The Case for Hillary Clinton:

"[W]hich of your safe white men are going to excite the base the way Hillary does, so they can spend all their time in the middle? I'll answer: None."

On the other, bloggers like Mickey Kaus and Perlmutter have pointed out that many prominent liberal bloggers are very unhappy with Senator Clinton.   As Kaus put it:

"Exciting the base is not something Hillary Clinton has been doing a lot of lately! I doubt that the Democrats' 'base' will forgive her for her Iraq vote even if the war turns into a relative success. Suppose that happens--what's she going to do, run on a campaign of 'I told you so'? That's always a turn-on for the die-hards!"

This leads to me want to rephrase Perlmutter's question:  Do blogs represent the Democratic "base?"

The answer may depend in part on how what we mean by "the base."  Are we talking about voters who think of themselves as Democrats?  Or are we talking about only those who vote in primaries, who consistently support Democratic candidates or feel "strongly" about their party affiliation?  Or are we talking about the yet smaller populations of those who donate to campaigns or who are active as supporters in the grass- or net-roots? 

Kaus, Permluter and others make a persuasive case about the reactions of prominent voices of the liberal "net roots."  I have not read Estrich's book, but I get the impression from the quoted passage that she defines the base a bit more broadly - the larger pool of voters who typically support Democrats when they vote.  But I should let Estrich and the others debating these issues speak for themselves.  For now I just want to point to some available data on the roughly 30-35% of registered voters who think of themselves as Democrats.

The poll results we typically watch most closely are those that measure vote preference - for whom would you vote if the election where held today?  Unfortunately, vote preference is probably the least useful question at this stage.  Most voters are unfamiliar with the various potential candidates and tend to gravitate to names they know even if their real commitment is uncertain or nonexistent.  For now, of course, Clinton is much better known than potential candidates like Feingold, Warner, Bayh and others.  Rather than the vote, the more useful questions are favorable ratings and specific measures of other attitudes that actually exist. 

Along those lines, here are some useful findings:

First, a survey released last October by the Pew Research Center included favorable ratings of Bill and Hillary Clinton (they interviewed 2006 adults, but asked the Clinton favorable ratings of random split samples).  Eighty four percent (84%) of Democrats rated Hillary Clinton favorably, 13% rated her unfavorably; 35% of Democrats gave her a "very favorable" rating.   Moreover, Hillary had much higher rating among liberal Democrats (94% favorable) than among moderate and conservative Democrats (78%). 


As the table above shows, Hillary's ratings are only slightly lower than those of her husband and the difference is mostly due to relatively lower scores among moderate and conservative Democrats, not liberals. 

Second, the Diageo-Hotline poll tracked Hillary Clinton's favorable rating among Democrats during 2005.  The results are more or less consistent with those from Pew. Taking sampling error into account, Hillary Clinton's favorable rating among Democrats has held roughly constant since July - roughly 80% rate her favorably and roughly 40% rate her very favorably.  (Note that the Democrat subgroup ranged from roughly 200-250 interviews on the Diageo/Hotline polls for a sampling error of roughly  6-7%).   The slightly higher "very favorable" that Hillary gets on this poll may result from the sample frame (Hotline interviews only registered voters) or the slightly different language Hotline uses for its answer categories ("very" and "somewhat" favorable rather than Pew's "very" and "mostly" favorable). 


[Correction:  The table orignally posted omitted the November data and mislabled October as November.  The one posted above is correct.  Apologies for the error].

Third, a recent Gallup poll asked adults whether they consider Hillary Clinton to be a liberal, a moderate or a conservative.  As reported by The Hotline earlier this week, only 33% of Democrats consider Clinton a liberal, 46% a moderate and 9% a conservative.

Note the similarity of these results to the ideological self-identification of Democrats evident on the Pew survey, where (given the subgroup sizes) roughly a third of Democrats self-identify as liberal, the rest as moderate or conservative.  These results are also consistent with a question about unnamed hypothetical candidates posed to Democrats and Democratic "leaners" by the December Cook/RT Strategies poll, as detailed by Charlie Cook in a recent column (hat tip Perlmutter):

29 percent chose the "Democratic Classic" candidate, reflecting the traditional Democratic liberalism, 31 percent chose the moderately liberal candidate and 31 percent chose the full-fledged moderate.

Taken together, these data support one of two conclusions:  Either most Democratic identifiers know that Hillary has taken a lot "moderate" or "conservative" positions as a US Senator and tend approve OR (more likely in MP's opinion) most Democrats simply like Hillary, know her stands on issues only vaguely and do what voters typically do, those who like her tend to project their own ideological identity on to hers.  Liberals think she is a liberal, moderates think she is moderate and so on.  Either way, the overwhelming majority of those who consider themselves Democrats rate Hillary favorably, and at least a third do so with intensity and liberal Democrats appear to like her better than moderate or conservative Democrats. 

Readers should consider these results with some very important caveats.  First, as with any poll, they are just a snapshot in time.  The primaries and caucuses are still a long way off.  Second, the overwhelming majority of Democratic identifiers and especially liberal Democrats are certainly opposed to the Iraq war.  On a recent CBS News poll most Democrats say they either want to decrease the number of US troops in Iraq (36%) or withdraw altogether (40%).  Third, adults who self-identify as Democrats are not the same as the much smaller pool of Democratic primary voters, much less the even smaller number of activists and donors. We will need larger samples of Democratic primary voters to get a handle on those populations.  Fourth and finally, these results tell us nothing about Senator Clinton's skills as a candidate or what sort of campaign she might run, and MP is not foolish enough to make any sweeping predictions in that regard.  What we can say, for now at least, is that the recent hostility of left-leaning blogs is not evident among rank and file Democrats. 

But if blogs are not "the people" in this case, MP wonders if the better question is whether blogs will ultimately prove to be opinion leaders.  As Perlmutter asks, will they ultimately fulfill their "potential for political power" and "influence their readers or greater public opinion?"  On that question, only time will tell.

UPDATE:  Mickey Kaus asks for comparative data on Muskie.  MP provides it here

Related Entries - Hillary Clinton, Polling & the Blogosphere, The 2006 Race

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on January 6, 2006 at 03:21 PM in Hillary Clinton, Polling & the Blogosphere, The 2006 Race | Permalink


I have always felt that for whatever reason, that liberal bloggers represent the far Left of the Democrats, and conservative bloggers mostly represent the libertarian (or moderate) wing of the Republicans. When preference polls are taken of the liberal blogosphere, far Left candidates like Kucinich do a lot better than when they actually have to face the primary voters. When preference polls are taken of the conservative blogs, it's moderates like McCain and Giuliani who outpoll their apparent strength in the Republican Party.

The liberal blogs have shown very little ability to move public opinion. Look at the Howard Dean campaign in 2003/4 for evidence; Dean had tremendous support right up until the point where real world Democrats actually started voting. Even the lib bloggers' fallback position (Wesley Clark) got pounded. About the only positive thing you can say about the liberal blogs is that they've proven they can raise money.

Hillary will be the Democrats' nominee in 2008; you can bank on it. And the liberal blogs will be exposed as the paper tigers they are.

Posted by: Brainster | Jan 9, 2006 2:14:30 PM

Daily Kos average hits per day-590,000. (I won't even guess how many are 'conservative bloggers, fishing for materials.)

50 million(approx) voted for Kerry.

Basically 1-2% of Kerry voters, could be considered regular visitors of the most popular 'dem' website.

Blogs wish they were the base, they are not.

Posted by: mtl | Jan 9, 2006 2:18:58 PM

I think we are dealing with false choices here. Liberal bloggers do not hate Hillary Clinton. They criticize her from time to time but most bloggers and people who post comments do not hate her personally. They disagree with her on Iraq but it is not personal. She is not defined by the Iraq issue. She is defined by her role as the VRWC fighting first lady and the wife of Bill Clinton. You are all ignoring how often liberal bloggers come to her defense when she is attacked by the right wing. Most liberals bloggers energetically defend her against attacks.

If you want a politician liberal bloggers and their readers hate check out Joe Lieberman. It is beyond the Iraq issue. They can't stand the man.

It is wrong to state that most liberal bloggers are to the left of the Dem base. This is simply not true. People like Atrios or Daily Kos or Josh Marshall or Brad Delong are centre left, not far left. They represent mainstream Democrats.

Posted by: Nan | Jan 9, 2006 11:12:57 PM

I don't read the liberal blogs enough to have an opinion about whether they represent the base, but my preferred Dem candidate is Lieberman which defines me pretty well. I don't strongly object to Hillary. I think she is to the left of Bill but may have become a more genuine centrist since entering the senate. Those 90% poll figures make sense to me and I think they will hold up because she is much better known than most first time presidential candidates. I think she will be the Democratic nominee and the next president. I 'feels it in me bones' and because she is not my preferred next president - Rudy is my preference - I tend to take that feeling seriously. I think the hard left base will vote for her just to get the Republicans out and to put the first woman in the Whitehouse. In the end she will prove irresistible to them and many other Dems will vote for her for these reasons too, but will feel quite comfortable with her - as the polls quoted above show. I think the election will be won or lost on how much of the center she can take back from the Republicans. I think that will depend primarily on how credible she is on defense. Some people in the center will vote Republican because they just don't trust the Democrats on defense. I'm probably in that category. A lot will vote Democratic because they don't like Bush and a lot will vote Republican because they just don't fancy another Clinton in the Whitehouse. Because Dubya will be in the foreground, and Bill in the middle distance I expect there will be more anti Bush than anti Clinton votes. But maybe not - so long as it ain't Jeb. I support Rudy because if he can project the kind of leadership he showed on 9/11 he has the potential to gain votes and take the middle away from Hillary. That's a big if, but I think of Bobby Kennedy in '68 - every time he spoke he gained. He had that special quality that it takes to be a real leader and we know that Rudy does too in a crisis - though their styles are very different. We don't know if he can project that quality in an ordinary campaign. We know Hillary, on the other hand, is mildly boring as a speaker - not nearly as effective as Bill. It is who she is and that everyone knows pretty well what to expect that makes here such a strong candidate. Right now, and it is a long way out, it looks to me like it is her's to lose and that the Republicans will have to take it away from her.

Posted by: lgude | Jan 10, 2006 3:33:10 AM

Guys like Atrios, Kos, etc. are not exactly hard left.

They are strongly libertarian and anti-Republican, which can make them appear to be radical. But regarding labor issues, the environment and (to some extent) abortion, they have a liberal stance, but are not extremely devoted.

The opinions of the commenters they attract are fairly diverse, but tend to be more hard left in everything, and of course they are often a bit wacky.

Posted by: Electrolux | Jan 11, 2006 4:57:11 PM

lgude, you're an interesting voter. I do find it hard to believe, though, that you would prefer Rudy Giuliani and his Bush-style approach to the concealment and control of public information as well as big-business cronyism. He was a lucky mayor, coasting on the crime reductions enabled by his predecessor's tax hike which expanded the police force.

Even Lieberman is a far cry from Giuliani.

Posted by: Jack B. Nimble | Jan 14, 2006 1:35:40 PM

Igude, I would agree with you that Rudy would be a strong challenger to Hillary. But let us take off our imaginary goggles for a moment and be practical. Hillary is an easy favorite for the Dem nomination. Easy as pie. But the pro-gay, abortion- moderate Rudy as the Republican nominee??? In what electoral world are you living? I heartily agree that Rudy would give Hillary one helluva run in the election itself. But I can barely keep a straight face trying to imagine Rudy winning the Republican primary to become the nominee!

Posted by: North | Jan 17, 2006 4:57:03 PM


Posted by: P. Antestenis | Jan 17, 2006 9:01:33 PM

Hillary is center left.THAT IS WHAT WE NEED.

Posted by: Morgan-LynnLamberth | Jan 19, 2006 9:18:00 PM

My name is Karen Welsh-Puckett. I'm a Libertarian here in Texas, just outside Austin. My "klang" is literature, and, disgusted with the insipid state of publishing today, I started my own press in January, Last Literary Press. My intention with Last Literary is to ignore what corporate-owned and politically correct university presses fob off on the world and actually, aggressively, seek out writers whose work is first rate but just doesn't cut it in the pop-cult mentality. I'm looking for that James Joyce working as a Berlitz teacher in Eastern Europe unable to get his masterpiece published anywhere because publishers just don't think it will sell.

I was lucky to find so far one serious author through the Internet whose works are offbeat but incredibly well done and entertaining. I launched Last Literary with his novel "Lone Star Nirvana." This is a true gonzo novel about two weirdoes who move to Austin, Texas, to escape the "Orwellian Hell" of Washington, DC, post 911. Figuring they'll be welcome in a city with the motto "Keep Austin Weird," they tear through the guns in a frenzy of drugs, guns, and sex while looking for Willie Nelson, breeding gila monsters, and partying with the ghost of Elvis Presley.

My question is whether you would link to www.lastliterary.com on your blog? The book is available online, very modestly priced, in paperback and pdf formats. Soon (this spring) I expect to expand distribution to bookstores in Texas. The first ten pages are online as an excerpt at www.lastliterary.com and the whole book is up on books.google.com. I believe that, while the books I am going to publish will be fiction and not necessarily politically-oriented, the Libertarians I know will appreciate writing that isn't the formula stuff.



Posted by: Karen Welsh-Puckett | Feb 10, 2006 3:33:27 PM

Hillary unfortunately is surrounded by a party of scoundrels and traitors. Hillary has all the attributes to be a good President. The woman is brilliant, strong willed, a experienced politician, and is admired by men who believe in a woman with substance. But to accept support from the "Tokyo Roses" of the Democratic Party Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, Durbin, Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein, etc. would be political suicide for Hillary if she accepted support from the above mentioned scoundrels! Teddy is following in the footsteps of his brother Bobby in his support of amnesty for the illegals mostly Mexican nationals. Bobby during the 1968 election campaign started the quest of the Mexicans for the return of the occupied territories of the Southwest captured during the American-Mexican War 1846-1848. Now Teddy in his usual obnoxious style on the very steps of the Capital is giving support and showing support and solitarity for the 12 to 25 million illegals in this country. The same way Teddy Kennedy demoralizes our troops in Afghanistan, and Irag, the same old Tokyo Rose propaganda, Kennedy:
[1]The President is lying to us.
[2] This war is illegal.
]3] We cannot win the war.
The same old arguments of our enemies in their attempts to demoralize our troops, and the home front. Now Teddy is encouraging the illegal law breakers in annexing the old territories of old Mexico, Southern California up to San Fracisco, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas north of the Rio Grande up to Mid-land, Texas. In 25 years, if we don't deport the illegals, and protect our wide open borders, the Mexicans who fly the Mexican flag out of loyality to Mexico will eventually out populate the Angloes, and demand a referendum to return the occupied lands to Mexico. The French-Canadians tried this in Quebec, why not the un-American Mexicans.So my advice to Hillary, a gifted politician, and a true American, don't touch the crazy unbalanced Teddy with a ten foot pole. In fact Hillary should reach out to moderate Republicans, similar to the Democrats for Reagan Campaign. Please Hillary stay away from these tainted Liberal Democrats. With the support of Republicans, and moderate Democrats you will be our next President

Posted by: arocker | Apr 11, 2006 7:14:58 AM

Go Go GO Hillary, you had the power.

Job Othoniel

Posted by: Job Othoniel | Sep 25, 2007 12:03:36 AM

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