A majority of Americans have a negative view of Hillary Clinton. And that's according to a poll that has her leading Donald Trump by seven points.
It's true that every four years journalists write columns lamenting the pitiful choices facing Americans on Election Day. But this election is special because of how overwhelmingly negative public views are toward the two major party candidates.
At Amazon, those wishing to wear their frustration now have three pages of products to choose from emblazoned with the logo, "I Already Hate Our Next President." This sentiment can be shared on mugs, T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies and even infant onesies. But one need not rely on anecdotal evidence.
In the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll cited above, just 37 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of Clinton, compared with 52 percent who had a negative view — and that was actually a marginal improvement over the August poll. Meanwhile, Trump was only viewed positively by 28 percent, compared with 61 percent who viewed him negatively. Among undecided voters, just 13 percent had a positive view of Clinton and 5 percent of Trump.
The net favorability numbers for both candidates (-15 for Clinton and -33 for Trump) are significantly worse than those of the losing candidates in the previous five presidential elections in the same poll taken every September dating back to 1996.
Bob Dole was viewed 44 positively and 35 percent negatively at roughly this point in 1996 (+9); Al Gore was at 52 percent to 33 percent in 2000 (+19); John Kerry was at 43 percent to 42 percent (+1); John McCain was at 46 percent to 38 percent (+8); Romney was at 41 percent to 44 percent (-3).
This makes it likely that whoever does get elected will take the oath of office as historically unpopular. Gallup keeps an archive of its initial poll taken after presidents were sworn in for their first term going back to President Eisenhower. On average, presidents have started with an approval rating of 61 percent, and the range has been a high of 72 percent under President Kennedy and a low of 51 percent, shared by Presidents Reagan and the first President Bush.
Though it's true that favorability and approval ratings aren't exactly the same and that winning candidates typically get a bump after being elected, given public opinion of Trump and Clinton, either one of them has a significant risk of beginning their presidencies underwater.
Poll numbers go up and down throughout a presidency, for sure. But it's important to think about the implications for governance if the next president, from the outset, is hated by a plurality of Americans.
The first year or so of a new administration is typically when a president's ability to move major legislation is at its apex. After that, the president has to worry about midterm elections, which more often than not go against the president's party, making it more difficult to get anything done before having to worry about reelection.
Even Obama, who entered office with a sky-high 68 percent approval rating and massive majorities in Congress, had to struggle to pass his domestic agenda, and failed to sign any major legislation into law after Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010.
A President Trump or President Clinton will enter office facing united opposition from the other party, and with low enough poll numbers to make members of their own parties in competitive states and Congressional districts feel comfortable defying them.
This failure to deliver any results will likely only harden Americans' fundamental distrust of whoever ends up winning this November.