Self-Awareness Shoot Out at the Data Nerd Corral

Nate Silver and Matt Yglesias are arguing about the significance of the relative approval ratings of Hillary Clinton and her potential Republican opponents and also about who’s stealing each others infographics.

Here’s the chart at the center of the battle.

I think I agree with Yglesias that the big takeaway from this chart is not that no one likes anybody. It’s that Hillary is a lot more popular than any of her potential Republican opponents. Clinton is running as a functional incumbent, inasmuch as she has basically total name recognition and she’s been at the center of American politics for almost a quarter century.

The ones who are at least relatively well-known are much less popular. The ones who are close to her net approval are close to unknown. The best takeaway for the GOP is that Rubio and Walker are basically unknown and thus don’t bring a lot of negatives with them. But still, for an age of extreme partisan polarization, Clinton is pretty popular.

Clinton’s popularity is also an example of how partisanship shapes attitudes toward individuals. Clinton had a good run as Secretary of State. But the real reason her popularity got so high is that she was removed from the partisan bucket, much as Bill Clinton has been over the last 15 years. It’s probably the case that that same partisan prism will lift the eventual Republican nominee up over his or her ‘natural’ level as the election goes toward the finale. The nature of partisan division also may make candidate popularity not that significant a factor – at least not as significant as we may be inclined to think.

Still, Hillary is a lot more popular than her potential opponents. There’s no denying this.

Also, cool infographic.

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