Hillary Clinton voters: 'Meh' or excited about possible candidacy?

A new survey suggests that Democrats aren't exactly doing cartwheels over the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidential run. But looking deeper, her numbers are solid.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signs copies of her book 'Hard Choices' at a Costco store in Arlington, Va., Saturday.

Are Hillary Clinton supporters a bit “meh” about the possibility she’ll be the Democratic nominee for president? A new CNN/ORC International survey indicates that just might be the case.

Asked if they would be enthusiastic if the ex-Secretary of State is the Democratic candidate, 41 percent agreed that they would feel that way, according to CNN/ORC results. Forty-two percent said they would be satisfied but not enthusiastic. Ten percent said they’d be dissatisfied, but not upset.

So in this one survey “enthusiastic” essentially tied with “satisfied,” when Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents close their eyes and dream about a Clinton candidacy. Those aren’t bad numbers by any means, but they’re not fabulous. They’re akin to family opinion about that fruit salad with coconut that your aunt makes for big gatherings: most relatives are fine with it, but not everybody is impatient for its appearance on the table.

In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s latest enthusiasm numbers are only a tick better than her comparable ratings from 2008, when she lost the nomination to Barack Obama. That’s one reason some conservatives are invoking House majority leader Eric Cantor’s surprise primary upset when talking about Clinton and her presumed cruise toward the nomination.

“Juggernauts are only juggernauts as long as they stay looking like juggernauts. [Clinton] doesn’t look like a juggernaut anymore,” said 2013 Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Well, we’re not sure we agree with that, insofar as the Democratic nomination is concerned. There’s another number in the CNN poll Mr. Cuccinelli might need to look at: 63. That’s the percentage of Democrats who say they’d support Clinton if she runs.

Look at RealClearPolitics’ average of major polls and you see this big advantage runs deep. In the nominee race, Clinton leads the runner-up Democrat, Vice President Joe Biden, by 54 points, 62 to 12. That’s ... a lot.

Yes, Clinton’s enthusiasm numbers are not as good as that. In part, they reflect the fact that there is less satisfaction with Clinton at the Democratic Party’s ideological edges. Twenty percent of Democratic voters said they would happily vote for a party candidate rated more conservative than Clinton, according to the new CNN poll. Eleven percent would go for someone more liberal.

But voter enthusiasm is also volatile. It’s a product of campaigning and an impending election. A good example here is Mitt Romney: in May, 2012, only 26 percent of Romney’s own supporters said they were enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for him, according to Washington Post/ABC News data. But by late September that number had risen sharply, to 48 percent.

In politics, the word “enthusiasm” might equate to fandom. And like sports fans know, your enthusiasm for a team rises and falls according to the flow of competition, while your basic support of that same team stays more stable.

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