What’s in a name? For Hillary Clinton, it could just be the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. The hype machine for the former secretary of State, New York senator, first lady and 2008 presidential also-ran is already going at full blast.
NBC and CNN are readying film projects about her life, much to the predictable outrage of Republicans. In a speech last week before the American Bar Association, Clinton planted a flag on voting rights. An early poll even has her looking like a general election contender in a red state such as Georgia.
Clinton has yet to declare her White House intentions. But when The New York Times reported questionable financial practices at the Clinton Foundation—run by her husband, Bill—that clip was no doubt tucked into opposition research files.
There’s a simple explanation for Hillary Clinton’s popularity: name recognition trumps all other factors at this stage.
“It’s always the first thing you look for, whether you’re running for town supervisor or President of the United States,” said pollster John Zogby. “You don’t have to battle to get your name out there. It’s known.”
Almost everyone can recognize Clinton, regardless of her hairstyle. In 2016, any voter younger than 24 will have only known a world with Hillary living in the spotlight. This guarantees her spot as a frontrunner, but the nomination is not necessarily a lock given the potential variables out there: the economy, implementing Obamacare, and basic get-out-the-vote skills.
Before voters get caught up in the anticipatory hype, it’s worth sorting through the four other major lessons from what the data really says about Clinton:
Name Recognition Advantage Will Fade - More people know who Hillary is than Vice President Joe Biden, another 2008 also-ran who has shined as a dealmaker inside the Obama administration.
Quinnipiac University released its “Thermometer” poll to see how hot politicians are with voters.
Clinton registered an impressive 77.7 degrees, while Biden was a slightly cooler 69.5 degrees. The survey indicates that Clinton has more heat with Democrats. But it’s always worth checking voter ignorance in these polls. Just 2 percent of voters claimed they “don’t know” about Clinton, compared to 5 percent of Biden.
That same “don’t know” score was held by more than 21 percent of voters for possible Republican contenders such as New Jersey Gov. Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
But that advantage will likely disappear as 2016 approaches. For example, in March, 2006, a stunning 59 percent of voters in the Quinnipiac thermometer poll marked “don’t know” for Obama. Only 2 percent did so for Clinton, who lost anyway.
A Strong Democratic Rival Has Yet to Emerge – If the primary elections started today, 63 percent of likely Democratic voters would pick Clinton, according to a survey released earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports.
Just 12 percent would choose Biden. Support tailed off even further for other Democrats such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
For the moment, Clinton benefits from the absence of competition and can consolidate support for her candidacy. Even though she has not declared, others are stumping on her behalf as part of an effort by the group EMILY’s List to elect pro-choice, Democratic women. .
"We have to have millions of people engaged and ready for what will be a pivotal race in America's history," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Iowans at a town hall this month. "[It's] about getting everyone excited now about what I hope will be that moment in 2017 when we all get to say 'Madam President' to Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Clinton is More Popular Now - The Gallup Organization has been tracking Clinton’s favorability since her husband ran for president and won in 1992.
As of June, 58 percent of Americans held a favorable opinion of her. This represents a decline from 66 percent last year, the likely result of her leaving the State Department, the controversy over the deaths in Benghazi, Libya, and Clinton’s quasi-return to the political fray.
But compare that to the summer of 2005. Her favorability rating was then 53 percent. Leading up to the 2008 primaries, it bounced as high as 58 percent and dropped at one point as low as 45 percent.
Clinton’s currently favorability is currently strong among African-Americans (90 percent) and Hispanics (68 percent), meaning that she could continue to operate from the same point of strength with minorities as Obama has.
Why Her Voting Rights Speech Is About More Than Messaging - In a speech before the American Bar Association this month, Clinton recently criticized a Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She plans to talk about transparency in national security in an upcoming address.
But this is about more than keeping her name in the public conversation, or crafting a platform. Tighter voting laws will likely hurt Democratic turnout in 2016, making it harder to win states such as North Carolina—which Obama narrowly won in 2008 and barely lost last year.
“In 2013 so far, more than 80 bills restricting voter rights have been introduced in 31 states,” Clinton warned the bar association. “Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.”
The North Carolina state legislature recently passed a strict voter ID law, trimmed early voting by a week, and eliminated same-day voter registration. This takes away a Democratic avenue toward victory in 2016.
Obama received 2.18 million votes in North Carolina last November, with the majority of them coming presumably from the 1.2 million Democrats who voted early.
More than 70 percent of African-Americans in the state cast their ballots early, almost all of them for Obama. Without early voting a competitive state with demographic trends favoring the Democratic Party has a greater chance of staying Republican in 2016.
Short of forms of voter suppression or a change in Republican policies, it would be tough for the GOP to compete against the current shift to a younger, more diverse population.
“There just aren’t enough old white men to sustain a Republican for the presidency, unless the country and the Earth go to hell in a hand basket,” said the pollster Zogby.