Hillary Clinton approval plummets. Benghazi?

Approval rating for Hillary Clinton, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, has plunged since February. Some voters – especially men, independents – may blame her at least in part for the death in Benghazi, Libya, of the US ambassador, one pollster says.

Cliff Owen/AP/File
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Washington, April 2. Clinton is still the 2016 frontrunner, new poll shows.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is still the 2016 frontrunner, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. The newly ex-secretary of State leads Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky by eight points, 49 to 41 percent, in survey results. She’s ahead of former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush by 48 to 40 percent.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden, another possible Democratic contender in 2016, trails possible Republican opponents in the Quinnipiac results. He’s behind Senator Paul by four points, 39 to 43 percent. He lags Mr. Bush by 38 to 44 percent.

But the Quinnipiac numbers aren’t all green lights and roses for Mrs. Clinton. They show a big drop in her favorability rating from previous surveys. Back in February, Quinnipiac had her at an all-time favorability high. Sixty-one percent of respondents had a positive opinion of her, with only 34 percent judging her unfavorably. The latest poll shows a drop of nine points, with a positive/negative split of 52 to 40 percent.

It’s possible that her popularity has been hurt by Republican complaints that the Obama administration did not do enough to protect US diplomats in Libya and subsequently misled the public about the nature of the fatal attack on a US building in Benghazi.

“The drop in her favorability is substantial among men, Republicans and independent voters. One reason for her drop may be that 48 percent of voters blame her either a little or a lot for the death of the American ambassador in Benghazi,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.

It’s important to remember that this just one poll, however. And other surveys show a slightly different picture. A Pew survey from earlier this month showed that the public as a whole has paid little attention to the congressional hearings on Benghazi.

“Fewer than half (44%) of Americans say they are following the hearings very or fairly closely, virtually unchanged from late January when Hillary Clinton testified,” concludes a Pew overview of that survey.

And Clinton’s favorability ratings were still quite high in April, according to Gallup data. Gallup had her at a 64 to 31 percent favorable/unfavorable split, giving her much better numbers than her then-boss, President Obama.

An alternative explanation for her poorer showing in the Quinnipiac poll is partisanship. The numbers show that some self-identified Republicans who had backed Clinton are drifting home to candidates of their own party, note Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower on NBC’s First Read blog.

The NBC trio notes that Clinton has also lost some support among independents. But with women voters she leads both Paul and Bush by some 20 percentage points, while trailing among male voters by single digits.

“If she runs and if that gender gap persists, she’d be VERY DIFFICULT to beat,” according to First Read.

Then there’s this final caveat: Don’t take all these numbers too seriously. It’s early yet, so early that 2016 presidential polls may be more entertainment than useful indictors.

At this point in the cycle, polls in 2008 also showed Hillary Clinton the presidential leader, points out University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. In 2000, they pointed to Al Gore. In 1988, Teddy Kennedy or Gary Hart seemed the likely victor.

“Have a good laugh reading polls on ’16 Prez. AT THIS TIME in cycle polls got every open contest wrong 1960-08,” Sabato tweeted on Thursday.

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