The Perils of Pauline (sorry, of Hillary).

Back in late August and early September 2015, only 37 percent of Democrats supported Hillary Clinton for President.[1] By late August 2015, 45 percent of Democrats wanted Joe Biden to get into the Democratic primaries, while 47 percent of Democrats wanted him to stay out, and 8 percent weren’t sure.[2] By late September 2015, 42 percent supported Hillary Clinton. Then Biden decided not to run. She’s back!

Nagging at the Presidential Revenant was polling data showing that she is unpopular with white male voters. In Iowa, 66 percent of white male voters had an unfavorable view of her, while only 27 had a favorable view of her.[3] Yes, Iowa is a conservative state and the polling sampled all voters, not just Democrats. Yes, she will do much better in liberal states. Yes, she is building a coalition of women and minorities. Still, in a tight race, she could not easily just write-off the white male vote.

The numbers show a real division of opinion among mainstream Democrats about Hillary Clinton. She can be beaten in at least some of the primaries, just as she was before. Moreover, depending on which candidate the Republicans nominate, she can be beaten in the general election. To believe otherwise is to ignore the strength of underlying opinion and organization among likely voters. Republicans hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, in 70 percent of state legislatures, and the governor’s mansion in 30 states.[4] Even if successful in winning the White House, a President Clinton likely would face the same situation that Barack Obama has faced. It wouldn’t matter what platform she had run on, legislation would be blocked by Congress and executive actions challenged in court by many states.

However, other poll numbers challenge this view. A late October 2015 poll found that 57 percent of Democrats saw their party as more united than divided, while only22 percent saw it as more divided than united.[5] The same poll found that 57 percent of Republicans saw their own party more divided than united, while 28 percent saw it as more united than divided. The Republicans had good reason to see their party as divided. On the one hand, it had a mass of candidates vying for the presidential nomination through personal vituperation. On the other hand, a bitter fight over the leadership ripped through the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton’s best hope is to run to the center and hope that the Republicans wreck their chances by nominating a complete clown. It isn’t clear yet how far she may have to veer left in the primaries. At least in some cases, her stance on social issues (enhanced background check for gun purchases, gay-marriage, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants) and economic issues (a mandatory increase in the minimum wage, rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership) can be spun as either progressive or mainstream.[6]

For their part, Republicans are doing what they can to stir up both the Republican and Democratic bases. They have been pushing restrictions on abortion and on access to the voting booth, along with more tax cuts, and a politicized inquiry into the Benghazi disaster.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 2 October 2015, p. 17.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 28 August 2015, p. 15.

[3] Josh Kraushaar, “Clinton’s white male problem,” The Week, 23 October 2015, p. 12.

[4] Matthew Yglesias, “Democrats sleepwalking to disaster,” The Week, 30 October 2015, p. 12.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 October 2015, p. 17.

[6] “Clinton: lurching too far to the left?” The Week, 30 October 2015, p.16.

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