Is Hillary Clinton Insane?

That is the implicit question pervading this recent Gallup poll and its subsequent report.

If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were to challenge President Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2012, she would currently have the support of 37% of Democrats nationally, while 52% would support Obama.


Presidents with relatively low job approval ratings heading into a possible re-election bid are vulnerable to intra-party challenges. As two examples, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were challenged for their respective parties’ nomination as sitting presidents — Ford by Ronald Reagan, and Carter by Edward Kennedy and Jerry Brown. Ford’s job approval rating had reached as low as 37% in 1975, the year before he ran for re-election, and Carter’s had reached 28% in 1979. Obama’s current weekly job approval rating is 44%, albeit with more than two years until the next presidential election.

I have to wonder at the lack of historical perspective it takes to post the results of this one with straight-faced seriousness. With such an obvious opinion poll disparity between Ford’s first midterm, Carter’s second midterm, and Obama’s first midterm, we should probably be thinking about more comprehensive trends.

It is unclear to me that President Obama’s approval rating is low enough to be writing the story of his impending shameful resignation, to say the least. But let’s look at the story from a couple of other sides because in building this first chart I learned something I had not known before: Barack Obama so far does, in fact, have some incredibly lousy first-time average polling numbers.

But as far as Presidents’ overall first-term polling lows are, his are so far pretty strong.

Never mind that the reported mid-30s/mid-50s gap between Clinton and Obama would in a presidential election represent a landslide victory. To me, the worst part of this report is the casual assumption of a relationship between polling numbers and the decision to run for re-election.

In fact, if we mount a one-way ANOVA on the nine data points available to us, excluding Kennedy and Obama, we find zero relationship between whether or not a President ran for re-election and his first-term polling numbers. A two-way T-test of the same relationship reveals a relationship of p=0.687.

Not only is it pretty clear that Hillary Clinton does not currently hold an electoral candle to Barack Obama, it is unclear Obama has any intention of countenancing a challenge. Given that Clinton could not possibly maintain her State Department position in the event of mounting a doomed challenge against a relatively safe President… what are we doing here?

While common sense holds that Presidents resign in the face of almost sheer defeat, we see no evidence of that here. I have been unable to find any in the literature – does anyone know what factors influence a President’s decision to resign?


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