For all of the incessant and on-going speculation about Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign — two days of stories about the Clinton Foundation, stepping to the center of New York City's mayoral debate — one point is worth making. There is nothing — no poll, no historic data, no web indicators — which tells us much about how likely a Clinton victory would be.
It's far too early for polls.
In June of 2009 — slightly farther away from 2012 than 2016 is from now — CNN reported on a poll looking at the Republican presidential primary. The top three Republican candidates: Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney. Trailing those three were Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush.
Or, even more to the point, a Gallup poll from August 11, 2005. The top Democratic candidates for 2008 were, in order: Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, and Joe Biden. The word "Obama" does not appear on the page.
There are two points to be made from this. The first is that we don't know the candidates that might run. The second is that there's a lot of time for opinion on those candidates to shift.
The gender advantage isn't clear.
There is a presumption that Clinton's candidacy might be bolstered by her gender. In the 2008 primaries, it didn't offer much of an advantage, though her primary opponent had his own unique characteristics.
It's not clear how that might play out during a general election. Largely out of curiosity we looked at three points of data to loosely judge support for female candidates:
- Support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries
- Female turnout in 2012
- A state's history of statewide votes electing women to the Senate or as governor
What we hoped to see in the maps below (click to compare) were states with relatively high 2008 support for Clinton, heavy female turnout in 2012, and a history of electing women. There are a ton of complicating factors — number of senatorial elections in history, candidates competing in each primary, etc. — but no such states jumped out. More women turned out in the Southeast in 2012, but Clinton seems unlikely to take Louisiana or South Carolina.
More telling is the chart below, which shows the overall trend of support for presidential candidates from white women over time. Since Clinton's husband was first elected in 1992, white women have been increasingly likely to vote for Republicans. It seemed as though it might be an opportunity for Clinton to help reverse that trend. Until you consider that Obama won the last two elections despite that trend, indicating that it was irrelevant to Democratic support overall.
Could Clinton get more support from white women in swing states that puts her over the top? Yes. But it's not definitively the case that it would.
Voters appear to be less intrigued by Clinton than the media.
In 2009, people didn't care that much about Mitt Romney. A look at Google search trends for the year shows the eventual 2012 Republican nominee floating under the surface compared with some of his eventual opponents.
Despite all the media attention given to Clinton, she's doing only slightly better than Romney by this metric. In fact, she more closely mirrors Newt Gingrich, who was unable to translate that burst of interest into a successful campaign.
If the election were held tomorrow, Hillary Clinton would likely win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. But it won't be. And speculation about whether the same holds true in 39 months is only speculation.