The Jarring Reasons People Don't Want Hillary Clinton to Be President

Many Americans want to see the first female president. But some say she's not qualified—despite a resume including the White House, Senate, and State Department.
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Mike Theiler/Reuters

The most important takeaway from Gallup's poll on Hillary Clinton is the main reason people want to elect her: because she'd be the first woman president. The survey found that 18 percent of Americans named that as the top reason to choose her, more than double the next closest reason, which is her experience. 

You can imagine the paroxysms into which this sort of reasonsing, focused on making history rather than making policy, will send some commentators: People elected Obama because it made them feel good to elect the first black president, and look at his approval now! Have we not learned our lesson?! But clearly the idea of Clinton finally breaking the glass ceiling she cracked, by her count, 18 million times in 2008 holds a strong pull. (The third reason, at 8 percent, is that she'd represent a change from the Obama and Bush policies—a maybe optimistic sense.)

What is surprising, as Grace Wyler points out, are the reasons people give for not wanting her to win:

Soak that in: The No. 1 concern Americans have about an administration run by former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is that she is not qualified. This despite the fact that her resume would make her easily the best-qualified Oval Office holder on paper since George H.W. Bush. And before Bush, it's a long way back to anyone else on par: Nixon, perhaps? Eisenhower, though he had little domestic experience? FDR?

Less surprising but more disheartening is that 4 percent of Americans are opposed on principle to the very idea of a female president, a dark corollary to the 18 percent who'd like to make history. It's hard to interpret the additional one percent who say the country isn't ready, whether they are or not. And who are the 1 percent who would disqualify a candidate simply because the media and her opponents would attack her harshly? (Well, besides Clinton's friends, apparently.)

What doesn't show up is important, too. A commonly mentioned weakness of a prospective candidacy is that the nation has Clinton Fatigue Syndrome: After eight years of the Clinton White House and another 16 where Bill and Hillary have both been major figures in American politics, people are ready to move on and get something new. But the two Clinton Fatigue categories—"Bill Clinton would be back in White House" and "Clinton scandals, baggage"—were only named as a top concern by a combined 5 percent of respondents. Just two percent named the much-hyped Benghazi flap.

Breaking down the results by issues, the responses suggest few respondents are paying close attention, with no more than 3 percent naming any specific policy as the most important factor for or against.

These attitudes aren't static. Seven years ago, Gallup did a similar analysis, and got some different results. The top result was the same: An even greater number, 22 percent, mentioned first female president. But in those pre-Obamacare days, 10 percent also said she'd reform healthcare, and 9 percent said she'd end the war in Iraq. On the negative side, 10 percent found her too liberal. Meanwhile, Clinton Fatigue seems to have faded over time—helped by Bill Clinton's rising stature in the intervening years. In 2007, a combined 17 percent named baggage or Bill Clinton's return as Hillary's top negatives.

Naysayers insist Clinton's invincibility is as overstated today as it was in 2007, before Barack Obama burst onto the scene and burst her bubble. But changing attitudes in the electorate point toward a more favorable starting landscape for Clinton than seven years ago.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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