New poll: Bill Clinton excepted, America punishes its political class

A comparison of presidents: Bill Clinton is popular and President Obama is far less so in a new Wall Street Journal poll. Above, the two campaigned together in Concord, N.H., in 2012.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Pro tip for politicians trying to get ahead: Either change your name to “Bill Clinton” or resign yourself to a whole lot of negativity.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Tuesday night found that, among past and present politicians, only those named Clinton had an overall positive rating.

In the case of Bill Clinton, the impeached president turned popular confabber and philanthropist, 56% of Americans had a positive view, with only 21% holding a negative impression.


His wife and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton was also seen positively, but just barely, with 43% upbeat about the former secretary of State to 41% who held a negative view.

And her trend line is not good: Hillary Clinton has suffered the usual post-announcement swoon even before she launches her expected candidacy. A favorable rating that was in the mid-50s little more than a year ago — after a high point of 59% in 2009 — was sliding downward as the former first lady is more and more seen as an inevitable Democratic candidate.

Membership in the political class appeared to drag down more than just Clinton, who on the whole was doing a lot better than every other active politician.

Among the potential 2016 GOP contestants, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had a lackluster 23% favorable rating and former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, had equally dismal 21% favorable marks. Unlike the others with net negative ratings, Rubio’s standing was at least tied among supporters and detractors.

Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, appeared to know whereof he speaks as he repeatedly tosses aside suggestions that he run for president for a third time: He was favored by only 32% of Americans, with 39% holding a negative view. Even the much-denigrated former President George W. Bush was doing better, with 37% viewing him positively to 38% negative.

Like Hillary Clinton, President Obama has bumped downward in the Wall Street Journal poll.

Forty-two percent of Americans held positive views about Obama, the poll found, and 46% held negative views. Asked separately to gauge their approval of Obama’s handling of the presidency, 40% gave him a positive grade — 21 points below his high in 2009 -- to 54% who did not. His worst marks came on foreign policy, where one-third of Americans judged him positively to nearly two-thirds who disapproved.

Obama’s presence in the White House serves as an acutely important organizing tool for Republicans as they look to the fall election, the poll found. Among those who favored Republican control of Congress, 59% said they were motivated more by opposition to Obama and his policies; 35% said they wanted to support Republican candidates. (Democrats were similarly motivated by partisanship, with 54% of those favoring a Democratic Congress saying it was to blunt GOP efforts, to 40% who said they wanted to support Obama’s agenda.)

Gloom permeated American views about the final two years of Obama’s term, with 40% saying they were “pessimistic and worried” about his tenure, to 17% who described themselves as “optimistic and confident.” Twenty-three percent said they were hopeful about his remaining time in office, and 19% said they were uncertain.

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