The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s ratings of unpopularity have risen to levels almost identical to those of Republican candidate Donald Trump. Fifty-six percent of the American public say they hold an unfavorable opinion of the former secretary of State and first lady, compared to 63 percent for Mr. Trump.
The unfavorable percentage was even higher for Mrs. Clinton among registered voters, and lower for Trump: 59 percent for Clinton and 60 percent of Trump.
Clinton’s rising unpopularity appears to reflect damage done by controversy surrounding her use of a private email server and alleged conflicts with Clinton Foundation fundraising during her term as secretary of State. Unfavorability ratings has gone up 6 percentage points in just three weeks, to the worst ratings of any in her public life. And it means that even if she is elected president, her mandate will be a weak one – a prospect that would hold true for Trump, too, but one that may seem more significant for a traditional politician like Clinton.
As The Washington Post notes, her declining favorability is especially pronounced among groups that normally constitute her bases of support. Among women, it dropped from 54 percent to 45 percent; among Hispanics, from 71 percent to 55 percent, and among liberals, from 76 percent to 63 percent.
The historically unprecedented unpopularity of both candidates may mean that Clinton’s campaigning in the remaining months could focus less on highlighting strengths than on pointing to the weaknesses of her opponent. In May, The Monitor’s Francine Kiefer wrote that voter opinion about Clinton and Trump might mean that both camps try to keep things negative.
The main driver for both candidates to go negative is weakness – their own, and their opponent’s. Clinton, who is leading Trump in most polls, needs to make sure that his negatives stay high as a motivator for her base. And Trump needs to drive up Clinton’s negatives to unite Republicans against her, says Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant in Texas.
Could they drive down their own negatives with positive, advocacy ads about themselves? Voters are driven to the polls by traits such as “inspiring,” “cares about individuals,” and “visionary,” Gallup data show, but both front-runners score low on these characteristics.
Clinton and Trump will surely try to project positive images of themselves, experts say, “but for both of them, [the negatives] are so deeply baked in, it’s hard to see how” they can substantially reverse their unfavorable ratings, says Republican pollster Ed Goeas.
Their unpopularity has also fueled the hopes of third-party and independent candidates such as Evan McMullin, a former Republican policy chief in the House and ex-CIA officer, who launched a presidential bid on Aug. 8.
“Like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, another long-shot candidate, he’s staking his hopes on an unusual path to the White House: both are hoping that Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will fall short of obtaining the 270 electoral votes needed for victory,” wrote the Monitor last week. “If that happens, the contest would pass into the House of Representatives, whose 435 members would then cast a ballot for one of the three candidates with the most electoral votes.”
Until this upcoming election, George H.W. Bush was the most unpopular candidate from the main parties to run for president, hitting 53 percent in July 1992 before eventually losing in his bid for re-election that November.