The bad news for Hillary Clinton in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: More Americans view her unfavorably than they did a month ago, revealing potential vulnerabilities for a general-election presidential contest more than a year away.
The good news for her in the poll: Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field by more than 30 points, and the favorability numbers for two of the top Republicans are even worse than hers.
Just 37% of all Americans have a positive view of Clinton, versus 48% who have a negative view (-11).
That’s a sharp drop since June, when the NBC/WSJ poll showed her with a 44% positive, 40 negative rating (+4) – so an overall 15-point swing.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollsters Peter Hart and Fred Yang, equates Clinton and her campaign to a battleship that can’t sink from just one torpedo.
“But there has been a torpedo that has hit something, and there are some leaks,” McInturff says.
McInturff adds that the poll doesn’t reveal what that actual torpedo was. But the NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 26-30 – right after The New York Times and other outlets (including NBC News) originally reported that Clinton was facing the possibility of a criminal inquiry over her use of email while secretary of state.
Those stories were later corrected to reflect that Clinton herself wasn’t the direct focus, and that the referral wasn’t criminal in nature. The revised headlines centered on whether Clinton’s email contained classified information.
(The poll also was conducted before the increased speculation that Vice President Joe Biden might make his own White House bid, and he wasn’t included in the poll.)
Indeed, there are two ways to view Clinton’s declining popularity numbers: On the one hand, President Barack Obama during his presidency has never held favorable/unfavorable numbers as low as Clinton’s right now.
On the other hand, husband Bill Clinton’s fav/unfav score in the April 1992 NBC/WSJ poll was 32% positive, 43% negative (-11) – and he went on to win the presidency that year.
Not surprisingly, political scientists caution that these ratings – at least at this stage of the race – don’t predict the eventual presidential winner. “Candidate perceptions are not a good predictor of the ultimate election outcome, especially this early,” Dartmouth government professor Brendan Nyhan recently wrote.
Hillary leads Democratic race by 34 points
Despite Clinton’s sinking favorability rating, she continues to lead the Democratic horserace by a wide margin.
She’s the top choice of 59% of national Democratic primary voters, while 25% pick Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. They’re followed by former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who are tied at 3% each.
That margin, however, is smaller than her 60-point national advantage over Sanders a month ago, 75% to 15%.
What’s more, Clinton’s fav/unfav numbers among Democratic primary voters – 73% positive, 13% negative – remains strong.
Clinton is still more popular than Trump and Jeb Bush
Then there’s this silver lining for the Democratic frontrunner: She’s still more popular than two of the leading Republican presidential candidates.
In the NBC/WSJ poll, Jeb Bush’s fav/unfav rating among all Americans is 26% positive, 40% negative (-14).
And Donald Trump, who leads the GOP horserace, is at 26% positive, 56% negative (-30).
Ratings for other Republicans: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (-13); Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (-12); Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (-10); former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (-8); Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (-1); and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (+1).
“To be sure, the trends for this survey are not favorable for the Democrats, but neither can it be said that the Republicans have the upper hand,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang.
Still, Republicans hold a 2-point lead over Democrats, 39% to 37%, among registered voters preferring a generic GOP or Democratic president in 2016. Democrats had a 3-point advantage on this question in June.
And President Obama’s overall job-approval rating in the poll stands at 45 percent – down 3 points from last month.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 26-30 of 1,000 adults (including nearly 400 via cell phone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.