David Brooks wonders why Hillary Clinton is so unpopular:
There are two paradoxes to her unpopularity. First, she was popular not long ago. As secretary of state she had a 66 percent approval rating. Even as recently as March 2015 her approval rating was at 50 and her disapproval rating was at 39.
It’s only since she launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to impress the American people that she has made herself so strongly disliked.
This isn’t a paradox at all, since this is what was bound to happen once she became a candidate again. For whatever reason, current and former Secretaries of State usually enjoy high favorability ratings. It seems that these people are viewed as being above politics, or at least they are not judged as harshly when they are serving in a Cabinet position. When Clinton moved back into electoral politics and started pursuing her own ambitions, she started to be judged more severely by Republicans and Democrats alike. Everyone has been reminded of the things that they don’t like about her over the last year and a half.
The presidential campaign has made voters remember her coziness with Wall Street and her foreign policy hawkishness, neither of which endears her to the left. She is still in the midst of a nomination fight against a generally well-liked opponent who has been hitting her on this record, and many of his supporters have come to view her unfavorably over the course of the campaign. Many of them will likely come around to voting for her, but for the moment they view her negatively. Almost all conservatives dislike her out of a combination of ideology and habit. Bear in mind that she has been a figure of consistent loathing on the right for almost a quarter century, and she has been a fixture in Washington for almost all of that time. There is an entire generation of Republicans that have been told since they were kids that she is horrible, and she has not done much to disabuse them of that idea. For a lot of the rest, she is an embodiment of the political class at its worst: calculating and cynical.
Brooks supposes that Clinton is not liked because she is perceived to be consumed by her public career. That may be part of it, but I suspect the bigger problem for her as a political figure is that she has been on the national stage so long that most of us are just sick of seeing and hearing her. Familiarity breeds contempt, and Americans are very familiar with Clinton. As Brooks points out, she has been in “public service” for decades, but then most Americans nowadays don’t consider that to be admirable or praiseworthy. When they consider what Clinton has achieved during that time, they are probably even less impressed.
Once the Democratic nomination fight ends and their party unifies, her favorability numbers are likely to improve as Sanders supporters begin to appreciate the things they do like about her, but those numbers aren’t going to improve that much. Clinton is simply too well-known to us, and our opinions of her are too well-formed to be changed now.