When Hillary Clinton officially announced her intention to run for the White House on April 12th last year, she was immediately proclaimed as the favourite to be the 45th President of the United States. Through a YouTube video she stated ‘Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion.’ The New York Times stated that her announcement ‘began what could be one of the least contested races, without an incumbent, for the Democratic presidential nomination in recent history.’ Such was the confidence in Clinton winning not only the candidacy but also the presidency. Such confidence though is being undermined by the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
In July of last year Clinton stood at 58% in the polls for the Democratic candidacy with a lead of 42% over her rivals. In the race for the White House she polled an average of 49% compared to Mark Rubio’s 37.5%. The latest data suggests that despite still polling at 51.2% her lead has been whittled down to a mere 13% over Bernie Sanders. In addition her lead over Rubio has flip-flopped and he now leads by 2.2%. Furthermore her lead over Donald Trump – who was not amongst the polls at the time of announcement – has diminished from 19.6% in July last year to just 2.5%. Where has it all gone wrong for Hillary? There are a number of factors that affected public opinion.
Both Sanders and Trump are seen as being something different to the status quo. Despite Biden’s recent swipe on Twitter at Sanders by declaring that the United States does not need socialism, public opinion is low when concerned with both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. In a recent Gallup poll 47% of US citizens disapprove of Obama’s performance as president, and 80% feel that Congress is not effective. Clinton’s declaration in the latest Democratic debate that she wanted to protect and build on Obama’s Affordable Healthcare legacy should be seen as an attempt to win over the coalition that Obama built to gain office. However, in doing so Clinton has aligned herself with an administration that is believed to be underperforming. Sanders, further left in the political spectrum than Clinton, is seen by non-Democrats as independent of Obama. Furthermore, to left wing Democrats Sanders’ egalitarian policies are seen as closer to Obama’s promises on the 2008 election trail than those of Clinton’s.
The same consequences are caused by the ascension of Trump. His firebrand tactics have alienated candidacy rivals and depicted himself as an outsider to Washington circles. His criticism of Obama and Clinton, Congress, and the inability of a Republican Congress to get things done with a Democratic president, has been favourably met with the US electorate. He has managed to portray Clinton’s policies as a continuation of Obama’s, and therefore firmly associated Clinton with the Obama administration. Crucially then, Clinton’s support has deteriorated because she has failed to identify with the public as being unconnected to Obama.
It also appears that where there’s a Clinton there’s some form of political controversy. Bill Clinton’s second term was dogged by the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings. The combination of scandal and a Republican dominated Congress led to his final term being ultimately a confrontational lame-duck presidency. Hillary is threatening to be no different. Since before her announcement she has been plagued by issues regarding security breaches through personal emails while Secretary of State. At her time of her announcement to run for the White House campaign manager John D Podesta assured potential donors that the issue would fade away. Such optimism has been misplaced. At the time of writing – nine months after Podesta’s reassurance – the issue has still yet to be settled causing Clinton embarrassment. This, combined with the House investigation into the Benghazi attack, has meant that Clinton has unwittingly provided ammunition for her rivals.
What next for Hillary? In all likelihood she will claim the first victory in the race for the Democratic candidacy at the Iowa Caucus on February 1st. However the winning margin will not be in the region of the 30% lead that she had in November. In stark contrast to that advantage the latest poll by CNN suggests that Sanders has an 8% lead among Iowan Democrats. A small victory for Clinton will not be enough to give her campaign momentum, but may be enough to burst the Sanders bubble. She is unlikely to win the New Hampshire primary eight days later where Sanders has a strong advantage. By then the additional emails from the State Department should also have been released for scrutiny which could further harm her campaign; until the legality of her actions is finalised it is impossible to tell.
What the Clinton campaign can take some comfort from is that her endorsements by Democrats in office are at a record high compared to other non-incumbent Democrat candidates from the last thirty years. Studies have shown that endorsements have been the greatest influence on state primaries and caucuses. Hillary’s lead is extremely large and Sanders will not be able to convince the part elites to change their support. Consequentially the next month ahead may be rocky for Clinton, but by the road to the White House will be considerably smoother by Super Tuesday on March 1st.
 Amy Chozick, ‘Hillary Clinton Announces 2016 Presidential Bid’, The New York Times, April 12, 2015