Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady: The People's Perspective
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Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady: The People’s Perspective BARBARA C. BURRELL* Northern Illinois University This article examines Hillary Rodham Clinton’s relationship with the public with the purpose of considering the first lady more generally as an overt policy adviser to the president. The first lady’s level of support and opposition, the divergent views between men and women, and a comparison with impressions of the president gives us insights into presidential politics and gender roles in American politics and society. On February 6, 2000, after nearly eight years as first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate from New York. No other woman has ever run for public office before or after serving in the role of first lady. This historic campaign challenges students of politics to expand their traditional conceptions of politics and provides a unique gender lens on American electoral politics. In this paper Hillary Rodham Clinton’s relationship to the American public during her tenure as first lady is examined. It explores how the public responded to Mrs. Clinton as she challenged traditional stereotypes of the presidential spouse and sought to become a political leader in her own right. First ladies have tended to be popular. To the extent that we have had public opinion polls to measure how much Americans “like” their first lady, they have shown a public supportive of these women, even those who have been outspoken and actively engaged in their spouse’s administration. The public has been much more likely to be favorably impressed than not with the individuals who have held this position and to approve of the job they were doing. For example, during the 1980 presidential election campaign, only 9% of a national sample expressed an unfavorable opinion of first lady Rosalynn Carter. Barbara Bush obtained an 85% favorable rating in an August 1992 poll and Nancy Reagan tended to be viewed favorably by over 60% of the people, although her disapproval ratings climbed near the close of the Reagan administration. (Burrell, 1997.) This article was presented at the 1999 American Association of Public Opinion Researchers annual meeting. * Direct correspondence to: Barbara Burrell, Public Opinion Lab, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. 60115 The Social Science Journal, Volume 37, Number 4, pages 529 –546. Copyright © 2000 by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. ISSN: 0362-3319.
530 THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000 Further, public opinion polls have shown that the American public has one set of expectations for a first lady in the abstract—a set that stresses more traditional activities— but, at the same time, has been favorably impressed with more activist first ladies in particular. Here, the public has accepted a public policy advisory role in general, as long as the person performing that role appears to be successful (Burrell, 1999). Historically, the one systematic public opinion poll undertaken during the Roosevelt administration showed Eleanor Roosevelt to be a very popular first lady (Gallup, 1939). Other examples include Rosalynn Carter’s controversial trip to confer with Latin American heads of state in 1977, which was met with approval upon her return, and the public generally applauded Betty Ford’s outspokenness on issues and contemporary concerns (Burrell, 1997, p. 81). Several poll results illustrate this disjuncture between expectations and approval in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s case. According to a US News & World Report January 1993 poll at the beginning of the Clinton administration, 59% of American adults opposed Hillary Clinton “being a major advisor on appointments and policy” (Walsh, 1993). Yet, after her appointment as head of the Health Care Reform Task Force, 59% reported in a CBS/NYT poll that the assignment was “an appropriate position for a first lady.”1 In a larger sense, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure challenged Eleanor Roosevelt’s years in the White House in terms of being an involved, independent, and controversial presidential spouse. It is thus important that we have an accurate reading on how the public responded to her efforts to transform the first ladyship into a public policy advisory position in the Executive Office of the White House. TRENDS IN OPINIONS ABOUT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON In Public Opinion, the First Ladyship and Hillary Rodham Clinton (Burrell, 1997), it is argued that the majority of the public perceived Hillary’s active role as a policy advisor in the administration’s first year favorably and, had the Clintons been successful in reforming the health care system, the first ladyship would have been further transformed. However, the failure of that effort, continuing negative publicity about the Whitewater affair and Hillary’s role in it, and several scandals linked to her in the early days of the Clinton administration—most notably the travel office firings—led to a substantial decline in the general public’s impressions of her and support for the job she was doing as first lady. More general concerns about the role of a spouse in a presidential administration also increased. After the demise of the Health Care Reform Task Force, Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to reestablish herself as a popular first lady by engaging in a number of different activities while maintaining a lower profile as a policy advisor. She focused her advocacy on more traditional issues concerning women and children, and was visible internationally serving as a goodwill ambassador and working on the rights and economic problems of women globally. She also had to face the consequences of her husband’s sexual escapades in the White House, which on a personal level greatly insulted her, and on a public level resulted in an impeachment trial for the president. Newspaper headlines chronicled the story of Hillary’s popularity during the Clinton presidency. Hillary Rodham Clinton began her tenure as a popular first lady. Headlines in state newspapers proclaimed her popularity among their citizens: “Hillary Clinton’s
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 531 Support Booms” headlined the Tennessee Commercial Appeal in March 1993; the Cin- cinnati Post reported “First Lady Rates High in Ohio” in Mary 1993; and in Iowa, the Des Moines Register headlined “Iowans Give Thumbs up to First Lady.” Nationally, we find such headlines as “Activist Role Wins Approval” and “The president is clearly in second place” (U.S.A. TODAY October 1 and 5, 1993). Headlines then reflected trends in public opinion as she faced scrutiny over the failed health care plan and Whitewater, then ultimately her re-emergence as a positive figure during the last years of the Clinton presidency. Examples include: “First Lady’s Softer Focus Follows Drop in Popularity” (Washington Post, 10/15/95); “First Lady Bears Brunt of Unfavorable Opinion on White- water” (Washington Post, 3/24/96); “First Lady Finds Positive Image as She Turns 50” (Wisconsin State Journal); “Hillary Clinton zooms in public esteem” (The Capital Times, 8/11/98); “Hillary Clinton: Popular and Hardly in Hiding” (New York Times, 8/12/98). The Gallup Poll Monthly also captured the saga of Hillary’s relationship to the people: “Hillary Clinton Maintains Public Support” (April 1994); “First Lady a Growing Liability for Clinton,” (January 1996); and “First Lady’s Popularity Rebounds” (January 1997). Three measurements are used to assess trends in the public’s impressions of Hillary Rodham Clinton during the tenure of the Clinton administration and give us a multifaceted perspective: Gallup polls on her favorability ratings; polls asking about approval of the job she was doing; and thermometer scale ratings from the 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1998 American National Election Studies. The data from the Gallup Polls have been obtained from the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut archives and organized by the author. Figure 1 shows the national trend in favorable and unfavorable impressions, as mea- sured in Gallup polls. The nadir in her popularity took place between mid 1994 and early 1997. Her popularity began its descent when Whitewater re-emerged as an issue in early 1994. In January 1994, President Clinton was forced to ask Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor. The low point in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s favorable ratings occurred in the first months of 1996 when she was called before the grand jury in the Whitewater investigation. An inspection of the decline of the trend line suggests that the Whitewater scandal more than her overt policy advisory role accounts for Hillary’s problems in maintaining a positive relationship with the American public. Reporting on Whitewater focused on the first lady intensely at two points: early 1994 and January 1996. Corresponding to this, her job approval rating dropped 17 points from early January 1996 to late January, while disapproval rose 16 points in CBS/NYT polls.2 By the end of 1998, Hillary had once again achieved the same high level of favorability that she had during the “honeymoon” days after the first inauguration. In January 1993, 67% of a national sample of adults said they had a favorable impression of her in a Gallup poll. She did not achieve such a positive rating again until December 1998, when 67% once more expressed a favorable opinion of her.3 Hillary claimed she regained her popularity in the latter years of the second adminis- tration, and a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Poll in 1998 showed her to be “the most popular national political figure in the country.” It found that 58% of registered voters had a favorable opinion of her, whereas 36% had an unfavorable opinion. That compared with ratings of 53–38% for Vice President Gore, 52– 44% for President Clinton, 41– 49% for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and 30 –27% for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott“ (Thomma, 1998). Her comeback was quite remarkable.
532 Figure 1. Favorability Ratings for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gallup Poll Data. THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 533 A second measurement of her relationship to the public is the reaction to Hillary as first lady. A series of poll questions have asked people to rate the job she was doing as first lady rather than their favorable or unfavorable opinion of her.4 The trend line in Figure 2 shows that although approval declined slightly over the course of the first two years of the administration, disapproval ratings climbed approximately 20 points, as the percentage of people without an opinion declined. Hillary came into sharper focus during this period. During 1995, she gradually recovered her fairly high job approval rating, which then plummeted in January 1996 as she was forced to testify before the Whitewater grand jury. In 1997, she was successful in reestablishing high approval ratings and moderating negative responses to the job she was doing as first lady. The third group of measurements are the results of the American National Election Studies (ANES) “thermometer ratings” scores. The ANES ask interviewees to rate how warmly they feel toward an individual on a thermometer scale from 0 to 100 degrees. Table 1 shows the mean ratings for both Clintons for four elections. In the first three elections, Bill Clinton received a warmer rating than Hillary Clinton. However, both are viewed more warmly than coldly, based on their mean scores in 1992 and 1996. But both scores fell in 1994, with Hillary’s thermometer rating dropping more sharply than Bill’s, even falling into the cold range (below 50 degrees). Here is a poignant indicator of the toll the Whitewater scandal and the inability of the first lady and the administration to produce any health care reform took on people’s feelings toward her. A reversal occurs in 1998, which supports the findings of the previous tables. Hillary Clinton obtained a mean thermometer rating of 62, higher than either she or the President had scored in earlier elections and for the first time she surpassed the President.5 Taken together, these three trend charts allow us to construct a summary picture of Hillary’s relationship to the public as she proceeded through her tenure as first lady. Hillary challenged stereotypical ideas of what the first lady should be about and thus challenged traditional public opinion about the presidential spouse. She showed sensitivity also to public opinion by both attempting during the first year not to be just an overt policy advisor and initiator, but to publicly perform traditional hostess activities of the first ladyship. She also lowered her public profile when things started to go wrong and sought to find other ways to achieve prominence, again responding to perceptions. A clear interaction emerges between opinion and performance. Further, the fact that her popularity was restored in 1998 by not speaking out against her husband, after his scandalous behavior with other women and public denials about it challenged feminists. But she was seen as acting in a dignified manner, which gave her a base of support that she then used to become a key figure in the 1998 election and generate momentum for her own campaign at the end of the Clinton administration. She emerged as not so much an icon of true womanhood as a political force, the most popular Democrat on the campaign trail. The public was supportive of her initial efforts to play a leadership role in a major policy area, contrary to what our gender biases would have suspected. That she was then demonized, and, due to subsequent events, later put “on a pedestal,” suggests a greater complexity to public ideas about women’s leadership than originally envisioned when Hillary Rodham Clinton became first lady. Her relationship with the public was a fascinating mixture of public and private roles and complex reactions to her. From a gender analysis perspective, it is particularly intriguing to consider Hillary’s rise in
534 Figure 2. Job Approval Ratings for Hillary Rodham Clinton. THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 535 Table 1. Feeling Thermometer Ratings Year 1992 1994 1996 1998 B.C.a H.C. B.C. H.C. B.C. H.C. B.C. H.C. Mean score 56.10 54.64 54.33 47.81 58.82 52.27 58.85 62.22 Standard deviation 24.44 21.80 29.20 30.17 29.61 29.92 29.18 29.16 a B.C., Bill Clinton; H.C., Hillary Clinton. popularity during the events of 1998 and how she used the sympathy she gained from that painful experience to become the foremost campaigner for Democratic candidates in that year’s elections. Stephen Hess, a senior political analyst at the Brookings Institution, captures the essence of this puzzling occurrence, “This is especially fascinating because her current popularity is based on her being a wronged woman, and that is a very nonfeminist place for her to be. She is building a new reputation by filling the gap in the campaign that should belong to the president” (Dobbin, 1998). The first lady took the role that she once mocked, that “. . . of a one-dimensional spouse standing by her man” (Alvarez, 1998) and then transformed it into an issue-oriented political persona on the campaign trail. Somehow her silence and continued performance as first lady captured the support of the public. Without a detailed analysis of people’s thinking as their favorable impressions rose in opinion polls and as she was cheered on at political rallies, we can only speculate about the roots of her increased popularity. The commentary of journalists following her activities in the fall of 1998 provides us with hypotheses about this relationship. For instance, journalists characterized the public as seeing her as a woman wronged who displayed a stoic dignity in the face of the embarrassment of her husband’s humiliating public admission that he lied about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. The public admired “her guts and spunk” and, in large numbers, they expressed empathy toward the woman “who has kept private any pain or humiliation she felt from her husband’s admission of an extramarital relationship.” Journalists quoted individuals on the campaign trail as saying, for example: “Hillary is her own woman”; “She’s marvelous. . . She has brains and charm. And she handles everything she does with such grace. I think she’d make a good president herself”; “You have to give her 100% for keeping going when he’s been messing around. . . ”; In a U.S. News & World Report survey, 52% said they admired her loyalty to the President, while 39% “questioned her judgment.” Fifty-eight percent said she should “stay and try to work it out,” whereas 21% believed she “should leave Bill Clinton.” Sixty percent thought she was “a good role model for American women today,” whereas 32% thought she was “not a good role model.”6 Of course, she had her critics, but given her popularity on the campaign trail, it was the support and sympathy she was receiving that received and characterized the media attention. The fact that she had worked to achieve a national image as a political and policy figure earlier in her tenure as first lady allowed her to transform the support for her actions as a supportive spouse in 1998 into being a political force and a political leader in her own right.
536 THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000 COMPARATIVE ASSESSMENT Of HILLARY AND BILL CLINTON The relationship between how one views a presidential spouse and one’s impression of the president or presidential candidate is of interest to presidential scholars and public opinion researchers, as they seek to understand election outcomes (Tien et al., 1999; Mughan and Burden, 1995, 1997). This interest is a result of the belief that presidential spouses are a force in campaigns and administrations. Hillary’s challenge to the traditional stereotype of the first lady has further stimulated this research agenda. There are two aspects to this line of inquiry: the nature of the linkage between presidential popularity and popularity for the first lady; and the impact the presidential spouse has on assessments of the president (or would-be president), especially during elections and regarding voting decisions emerging from those assessments. An apolitical first lady who stresses the traditional homemaker and ceremonial hostess role may nevertheless achieve an image independent of that of the president (or lack much of an image at all.) Barbara Bush, for example, achieved high favorability ratings at the end of the Bush administration, whereas George Bush was slipping on route to defeat. The reason for this was that she had not given the public much to compel an unfavorable response in opinion polls. An activist first lady, on the other hand, can create a response quite separate from that generated by her husband’s performance. Her first ladyship can be measured by distinct criteria based on ideas of gender correctness, governmental position, and personality. Both spouses also can garner similar ratings, but be viewed quite distinctly. Similar ratings do not necessarily mean that the presidential spouse has no independent base of support. She may be viewed positively because her husband is viewed favorably, or because of her own activities and stands, or some mixture of the two. It may be impossible to separate the effect a spouse’s rating has on the president’s, or vice-versa, and the extent to which her activities contribute to positive approval for the job he is doing. Favorable impressions of Bill and Hillary closely track in Gallup polls (Fig. 3). They rise and fall together in 1993 and 1994. But Hillary loses favor relative to Bill in August 1995, then climbs back to parity in the October 1997 poll, where she obtains a favorable rating of 61% and he achieves 62%. The average of three Gallup polls taken in January 1998 —as the Lewinsky scandal began to unfold—shows Hillary gaining greater favor, while Bill’s favorability starts to shrink. In those January 1998 polls, Hillary had an average favorability rating of 61% to 56% for Bill. At the end of 1998, 67% said they had a favorable opinion of Hillary compared with Bill’s 56%. Bill and Hillary’s thermometer ratings in the ANES are highly correlated. In 1992 the correlation was 0.70, in 1994 it was 0.78, in 1996 it was 0.82, and in 1998 it was 0.86. Measuring the quantitative effect of a spouse on campaigns and elections is difficult. How important are perceptions about the spouse in the decision making process voters go through in determining how they will cast their ballot? To such a question, the extent to which someone who feels indifferent toward the candidates could be swung one way because of an “attractive” spouse must be considered. Or, if one otherwise feels negative toward a candidate, to what extent might spousal support be strong enough to swing a vote? The problem with most quantitative analyses of the impact of the spouse on the vote is that we can only show the strength of the relationship between affect and vote— controlling for other factors— but we cannot show a causal relationship. The effect of the
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady Figure 3. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Favorability Ratings. 537
538 THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000 spouse on the campaign trail is much broader in scope, in that she can attract crowds, generate positive press, help raise money, and appeal to particular groups in a way that cannot be captured in a quantitative analysis. Two quantitative analyses of the influence of spouses on the 1996 presidential election conclude that there was a spouse effect on the vote in that election. Mughan and Burden (1997) conclude that Hillary was more influential in shaping the outcome of the presi- dential election in 1996 than in 1992, even through she was less popular. The 1996 vote analysis of Tien (1999) showed “that first spouses play an important role in the election. First spouses, especially Hillary Clinton, had a strong impact on the public popularity of their spouses, and they also influenced the vote. The results suggest that first spouses are important players in national politics” (p. 165). The conclusions of each of these studies are based on the size of regression coefficients of spouses’ feeling thermometer scores on the vote for their spouse, while controlling for other factors considered to be important predictors of the vote. But one cannot conclude from these analyses that spouses were a deciding factor in the decision to vote for or against a candidate. We cannot conclude, for example, that if it were not for Hillary Rodham Clinton a certain percentage of the public would not have voted for Bill Clinton. It is more likely that for some voters having Hillary in the White House reinforced their support for Bill Clinton and perhaps made them more certain of their vote or more likely to turn out to vote, particularly liberal Democrats. At the same time, it is doubtful that many voters said they would have voted for Bill Clinton, but did not do so, because of Hillary. Her presence probably strengthened a decision they would have made anyway on partisan and political grounds. To argue that these correlational analyses do not prove a causal relationship is not to argue that spouses are not forces in contemporary elections. Mughan and Burden (1997) correctly characterize the importance of spouses when they cast their role as shoring up support in particular quarters as opposed to having a more diffuse impact. Hillary had an effect in 1996 because of her popularity in the left wing of the Democratic Party and she was used to reinforce that support which Bill Clinton had jeopardized by moving to the political center.7 “The trick is less to have them appeal outside their spouse’s partisan fold and more to have them shore up loyal support within it” (p. 13). It is their strategic use within the campaign that makes spouses a force in contemporary presidential elections, not their independent quantitative effect on the vote. In 1998, Hillary was a formidable force in the Democratic campaign strategy of that midterm election. In that election, she offered to attend fundraisers for House and Senate Democratic candidates—many of them challengers against incumbents—as part of the Democratic congressional and senate campaign committees’ efforts. In June and July she attended six such fundraisers (Alvarez, 1998). After the August debacle regarding Pres- ident Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Hillary emerged as an energetic and popular campaigner while the president was unwelcome on the campaign trail. During the fall campaign she even made a 19-state tour on behalf of Democratic candidates, cut more than 100 radio and TV spots, and raised millions of dollars for Democratic campaigns.8 EMILY’s List, in conjunction with the coordinated campaign of the Democratic National Committee, targeted women in key states who tended to vote in presidential elections and then drop out during midterm elections. Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a letter to those
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 539 women with the theme “children’s issues are bigger than politics.” She was clearly seen as one who could connect with these women and stimulate them to turn out to vote. Hillary stumped especially hard for Democratic women, particularly embattled senators Barbara Boxer and Carol Mosely-Braun, in addition to visiting New York on several occasions to campaign for Representative Charles Schumer’s race against Senator Alfonse D’Amato. She visited Illinois three times, appeared in a 30-second television ad, and wrote a personal fundraising letter that brought in $145,000 in the first 10 days (Irish Times, 1998). Hillary emerged from that election as a potential candidate for national office herself. GROUP SUPPORT AND OPPOSITION TO HILLARY As we have seen, the public’s impression of Hillary Rodham Clinton has varied over the course of her tenure in the White House. Have certain groups of people been the base of her support? Have certain groups moved in and out of her support coalition, depending on her activities and challenges? One would hypothesize that she would be seen in a very partisan light because of her advocacy of liberal positions on public policy issues. Partisanship and Support Figure 4 shows the responses of partisans to inquiries about their impressions of Hillary Rodham Clinton during her tenure as first lady, according to Gallup Polls. Overall, as the figure indicates, Democrats were highly approving, while Republicans were strongly disapproving, with independents consistently taking a middle ground. The level of their approval rises and falls similarly across groups in response to her efforts and challenges to her activities. In January 1993, Gallup reported 53% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats approved of Hillary Clinton’s handling of the job of first lady, whereas 64% of independents gave her positive marks. By April, Republican support had dropped to 39%, whereas Demo- crats maintained an 83% favorable rating, and independent voters’ impressions had dropped slightly to 58%, according to the Gallup Poll. As the administration proceeded, Democrats remained steadfast in their support of her, while typically less than one-third of Republicans gave her favorable marks. The support of independents—always between that of the levels indicated by Democrats and Republicans— declined overtime in the first months of the administration, bounced back, and then drifted downward, so that whereas over 60% of the independents rated her favorably at the beginning of the administration, their support declined to 50% in the second year. Sex and Support The gender gap as measured by public support has been quite consistent and strong through the Clinton years. Women have consistently been more favorably disposed toward Hillary Rodham Clinton than men. At the beginning of the administration, men and women were equally supportive, but men’s positive impressions quickly began to decline, while women maintained their level of support. It may not be surprising to find that women were more supportive of Hillary than men, but it is important to ask why this divergence has occurred. If men were stronger believers in traditional roles for women,
540 Figure 4. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Favorable Impressions by Party, Gallup Polls THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 541 Table 2. Mean Scores by Sex: ANES Studies Mean Year score 1992 1994 1996 1998 B.C.a H.C. B.C. H.C. B.C. H.C. B.C. H.C. Men 54.36 53.44 51.56 42.86 54.72 46.69 58.10 57.32 Women 57.64 57.73 56.87 52.37 62.59 57.41 58.85 62.22 a B.C., Bill Clinton; H.C., Hillary Clinton. then this greater traditionalism could account for their lower levels of support. Or it may be that men are more conservative on public policy issues and therefore their greater negativity toward the first lady stems for her policy stances, not necessarily her involve- ment in policy per se. In January 1993, 69% of women and 63% of men approved of the way Hillary Clinton was handling her job as first lady, according to the Gallup Poll. In April, 67% of women and 54% of men had an favorable opinion; in June 60% of women but only 40% of men said they had a favorable opinion of her—a 9-point drop for women but a 25-point decline among men during this six-month period. An especially large gap had emerged in the early months of 1994, as women maintained a quite high level of support, while less than half of the men were supportive. Men by this time were as likely to have an unfavorable impression as a favorable one, while women were twice as likely to be favorably impressed as unfavorably impressed. Both men and women had slightly lower positive ratings in the first half of 1996. After that period, favorable impressions by both sexes began to climb slowly. By October 1998, 57% of men and 63% of women expressed a favorable opinion of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Fig. 5). Table 2 shows the average thermometer scores from ANES for men and women in the four elections of the Clinton era for both Bill and Hillary. Women are more supportive of both Clintons in each election than men, but men are especially cold toward Hillary in 1994 and 1996. Interestingly, women and men are more supportive of Bill than Hillary, except in 1998 when women were warmer toward Hillary than they were toward Bill. Sex, Partisanship, and Support The interaction between sex and party in impressions of the first lady is intriguing (Fig. 6). For example, in the June 1993 Gallup poll, although only 23% of Republican men had a favorable opinion, 39% of Republican women had a favorable opinion of the first lady. These figures compared with 60% of Democratic men and 75% of Democratic women. A large gap also existed between the support of independent men and independent women. Only 35% of the former, but 60% of the latter, had a favorable opinion in that poll. Early in the first administration, the first lady seemed to be advantaged by the support she received from independent women and her disproportionate support from Republican women relative to Republican men. The gender gap among Republicans was sustained in the second year of the administration. In April 1994, Gallup attributed the continued gender gap in favorability ratings of Hillary Rodham Clinton “mostly to a gender gap among Republicans: 46% of GOP females, compared with 24% of GOP males, have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, a gap of 22 points. Among Democrats, however, there
542 Figure 5. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Favorability by Sex, Gallup Polls. THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady Figure 6. Favorability Ratings of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Party and Sex, Gallup Polls. 543
544 THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000 is only a six-point gap: 82% of females and 76% of males are favorable toward the first lady.” These figures suggest a sharp gender gap in support for Hillary Clinton with women considerably more supportive than men, regardless of party identification. Although partisanship dampens support for Hillary among some women, it does not totally mitigate the more favorable response she has obtained from women compared with that of men. It suggests a gender consciousness at play above and beyond policy support. CONCLUSION Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as first lady has placed the presidential spouse as a key player in the White House. Scholars are beginning to think about the impact of her years as first lady and her legacy on that position. And we can ask the extent to which she has freed future presidential spouses from the gender constraints that have been placed on that position. Other questions must be asked, such as: Is a person in this position more likely to serve as an autonomous individual, in keeping with liberal democratic premises, because of Hillary’s efforts? Hillary Rodham Clinton has not been in control of her destiny as first lady. We have seen that events outside of her control to a degree at least have had a major impacts on her relationship with the public, namely the Whitewater investigation and the President’s sexual scandals. The former made her seem a liability on the administration and the latter made her an asset. Future presidential spouses can learn from that experience how to use the opportunities available to them to communicate their goals. One could look to Lady Bird Johnson and her press secretary Liz Carpenter’s efforts for examples of how to communicate through the media (Foreman, 1971). The most lasting impression one might take away from an overview of public opinion during Hillary’s years is not to attempt to be an overt policy advisor to the president. This would be a misreading of her history, as the polls have indicated. A first lady would have to more sensitively craft her position. Certainly future spouses will hesitate to take on a formal position as a policy advisor. We can also imagine that, given the increasing numbers of spouses with professional backgrounds, they will increasingly chafe at the gender limitations of the position of first lady. More will want to continue to pursue their independent careers, which will continue to be difficult given potential conflicts of interest. And running for president has become a family affair in contemporary politics. Spouses are central players, needed on the campaign trail. They tend to be part of the election team that puts the man in the White House. To be so much a part of that organization but not the one that achieves as a result of that effort is unnatural. Hillary Rodham Clinton has provided future spouses with both greater leeway for how they will approach this “job,” and set up hurdles for them. She has loosened some of the gender constraints but also made them more visible. They cannot be ignored and the extent to which women have been the base of her support suggests that for the most part women want those constraints removed. This follows for the changes in their own lives and ambitions.
Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady 545 NOTES 1. CBS/NYT Poll, February 9 –11, 1993. Roper Center at University of Connecticut, Public Opinion Online, Accession Number 0192356, USCBNYT.021593, R42B. 2. Gallup Poll, December 28 –29, 1998. Roper Center at University of Connecticut, Public Opinion Online, Accession Number 0318806, Question Number 006. 3. CBS Poll, January 1–3, January 1996. Roper Center at University of Connecticut, Public Opinion Online, Accession Number 0257887, Question number 9; CBS Poll, January 15–17, January 1996. Roper Center at University of Connecticut, Public Opinion Online, Accession Number 0249401, Question number 2. 4. Most polls in this series as about approval of the “job HRC is doing as first lady,” but an occasional poll has asked about HRC’s “handling of her role as first lady.” I have combined these two versions together in Fig. 3. 5. The mean thermometer score in the ANES study for Elizabeth Dole in 1998 was 62.39. 6. The questions wordings were: “Thinking about Hillary Clinton’s response to the current scandals in Washington, do you admire her loyalty to the President (Bill Clinton), or do you question her judgment in defending the President?” “Thinking about Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which do you think Hillary Clinton should do? Should she—leave Bill Clinton or stay and try to work it out?” and “Would you say that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a good role model for American women today or is she not a good role model?” The questions are from Public Opinion Online, Roper Center, accession numbers 0310098, 0310105, and 0310095. 7. Elizabeth Dole, too, was used to solidify the Christian right vote for the Republicans in 1996. She apparently had many private meetings with religious groups during the campaign. 8. In contrast, Hillary only appeared in one Clinton-Gore commercial in the 1996 election. REFERENCES Alvarez, L. (1998). Hillary Clinton: Popular, and Hardly in Hiding. New York Times, August, 12: A1. Burrell, B. (1997). Public Opinion, the First Ladyship, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. New York: Garland Publishing. Burrell, B. (1999). The Governmental Status of the First Lady in Law and in Public Perception. In L. D. Whitaker (Eds.), Women in Politics: Outsiders or Insiders? (3rd ed., pp. 233–247). New York: Prentice Hall. Clines, F. (1998). From Political Debit to Force: Hillary Clinton. New York Times November 11: A1. Dobbin, M. (1998). Now It’s Hillary Clinton to the Rescue. Sacramento Bee, October 27: A1. Foreman, N. R. H. (1971). The First Lady as a Leader of Public Opinion: A Study of the Role and Press Relationship of Lady Bird Johnson. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin. Gallup, G. (1939). Mrs. Roosevelt More Popular than President, Survey Finds. Washington Post January, 15. Jensen, F. L. (1990). An Awesome Responsibility: Rosalynn Carter as First Lady. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 20: 770. Mughan, A. and B. C. Burden. (1995). The Candidates’ Wives. In Herbert Weisberg (Ed.), Democracy’s Feast (pp. 136 –152). New Jersey: Chatham House Publishers, Inc. Mughan, A. and B. C. Burden. (1997). Hillary Clinton and the President’s Reelection. Paper presented at the American Political Science Association meeting, Washington DC.
546 THE SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL Vol. 37/No. 4/2000 Thomma, S. (1998). First Lady Flourishes in Newfound Role of Nation’s Hottest Politician. Knight-Ridder Newspapers as carried in The Buffalo News, October 29: 5A. The Irish Times, October 31, 1998. Tien, C., R. Checchio, and A. Miller. (1999). The Impact of First Wives on Presidential Campaigns and Elections. In Lois Duke Whitaker (Ed.), Women in Politics: Outsiders or Insiders? 3rd edition. New York: Prentice Hall. Walsh, Kenneth. (1993). Now, the First Chief Advocate. U.S. News & World Report, January 25, pp. 46 –50.
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