Hillary Clinton vs. Karl Rove on Electability

With months to go before the first caucus or primary vote is to be cast, political talk, as usual, centers on the horse race as opposed to issues. Karl Rove, who has been proven to be capable of error in 2006, has questioned whether Hillary Clinton is electable:

There is no front-runner who has entered the primary season with negatives as high as she has in the history of modern polling. She’s going into the general election with, depending on what poll you look at, in the high forties on the negative side, and just below that on the positive side, and there’s nobody who has ever won the presidency who started out in that kind of position.

Peter Daou, internet director for the Clinton campaign, has responded to this attack at several blogs today, including at Huffington Post. Peter makes a good point that both Bill Clinton in 1992 and George W. Bush in 2004 actually had similar high unfavorable ratings and went on to win.

Obviously Peter has an interest in this argument so I went on to check the data at Gallup. From the data present it looks like there may actually be an even stronger argument to counter Rove’s argument than Peter made. The data discussed goes back to 1992. In terms of presidential elections this doesn’t include very much data. If Rove was wrong about the elections for which we have this Gallup data, I wonder how many other elections he was wrong about

Richard Nixon was known as Tricky Dick well before he was elected in 1968. I doubt that there wasn’t a point when he had unfavorable ratings as high as Hillary Clinton’s.

The use of George W. Bush in 2004 might be less compelling due to the inherent advantages of an incumbent president, especially during wartime. However, if we do consider Bush in 2004, I sure wonder what Harry Truman’s unfavorable ratings would have been in 1948.

Adding Richard Nixon and Harry Truman only takes us back to 1948. I wonder how many other unpopular candidates might have also won in elections I have less knowledge about.

This is not intended as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton or an argument either way as to whether she is electable. At this point in the race it would be far wiser to look at the candidates in terms of their positions and other qualities which would determine whether they would make a good president. Perhaps when we reach January (or late December) and it is time to vote then perceptions of electability might be included in the final decision with regards to who to vote for. It is way too early for electability to be a factor to decide between the candidates when there is so much more of consequence to learn about them.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    sonya says:

    The problem isn’t Hillary electablity. Yes, she can squeak in like Bill and Nixon. But she will not be able to govern, alot of Democrats are nervous because the Clintons aren’t known for their coattails. Hillary isn’t Bill and doesn’t have his skills in mastering congress. Some skills are transferable thru marriage. I tired of these slim margins of victory. I want a president with a mandate so some of the issues facing america can be resolved.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    For the purpose of this post I am looking purely at the validity of Rove’s argument regarding Clinton’s electability.

    If she is elected, she will probably start out with a Democratic Congress. If she can keep that, she wouldn’t need the same skills that Bill needed to survive a Republican Congress (although in some ways I think Bill might have done a better job due to having to deal with this).

    Maybe things will change but there is a great risk that Clinton will continue to appeal far more to Democrats than other groups. At this point Richardson and Obama look like they have a much better prospect of bringing in support from independents and moderate Republicans.

Leave a comment