It was tempting to begin this article by pronouncing that, ‘Hilary Clinton will be elected President on November 8th 2016’. But after June 23rd, conventional political wisdom is not so sure to apply. Yes, it is still overwhelmingly likely that the first female President will be inaugurated on January 20th 2017, but Mrs Clinton must still work hard to confine Trump to the list of presidential runners up. Hillary must not only convince voters that her policies are virtuous, but that on a personal level, she is an individual worthy of the Oval Office. Her record suggests she may find the latter task more difficult than it seems.
Let’s start with voters’ perceptions. Despite her sky high favourability ratings shortly after leaving office as Secretary of State in 2013, the most recent polls suggest only 41.6% of voters hold a favourable opinion of her now, compared to 54.9% who view her unfavourably. Years of baggage going back to her days as First Lady have been compounded by more recent scandals – such as her mishandling of classified information as Secretary of State – to ensure she is seen as untrustworthy by many on both sides of the aisle. In any other election, these numbers alone would be enough for most people to write her off. But this is not any other election year, and Mrs Clinton has two aces in her hand.
First, The Donald. Though he has made a concerted effort in recent weeks to appear more presidential, he is still viewed even more unfavourably that Clinton – the Republican nominee’s average in recent polls is 37.9% favourable to 57.9% unfavourable. One could spend a lifetime documenting the things that Trump has said or done which would effectively destroy most candidates’ chances of election to public office, and yet he edges closer to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The partisan nature of US politics has ensured that the vast majority of Republicans are now behind Trump, so it was always unlikely that 2016 would be another 1964 or 1972 style landslide. Clinton must therefore redouble her efforts, especially at the upcoming presidential debates, to reassure moderate voters that she is the only adult in the room.
Her second ace is President Obama. His favourability has been creeping higher in recent months, perhaps as a result of voters judging him more compassionately when comparing him with his likely successors. In a recent poll, his job approval ratings hit 58%, and his average is now over 50%. Along with the state of the economy, the incumbent’s favourability rating in the months leading up to the election is historically the best indicator of who will win the election (the incumbent party will generally win if the President has an approval rating above 50%). Clinton must therefore not make the mistake of Al Gore in 2000; Gore disowned Bill Clinton, despite the President’s continuing popularity, and went on to lose the election by 537 votes. Instead, she should make as much as possible out of Obama’s relative popularity, and use him as a campaign surrogate, especially when appealing to the all-important minority voters.
As well as relying on these advantages, she should also seek to gain ground in other areas she is traditionally considered weak, such as first time voters. Though Trump has trailed the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, in some polls of the under 30s, this voting group – crucial to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 triumphs – is still not wholly convinced of the merits of Mrs Clinton’s candidacy. Many young Democrats supported socialist Bernie Sanders in the primaries and demand Hilary tilt to the left and incorporate universal health care and free college tuition into her platform. While she must be wary of the temptation to secure this demographic by abandoning the centre ground for the left, she should take steps to reassure young voters that it is worth turning up to vote. This will not be done by stooping to the negativity of the GOP campaign, but by being positive about the future and – through her rhetoric – showing that love really does ‘Trump’ hate
It is clear that Hilary has the tools at her disposal to win, but however great the margin of Democratic victory, there will still be a mammoth task ahead. The anti-immigrant and anti-globalisation feelings which have propelled the Trump candidacy will not die with the GOP nominee’s defeat in November – a new Trumpite challenge may well emerge in 2020. To really finish the job, she must reach out to those areas of society left out of the progress of the Obama years, and that will be an altogether more difficult task.