Hillary Clinton's popularity is independent of her husband's

October 12, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hillary Rodham Clinton's popularity among the American public is nearly completely independent of her husband's approval rating, a new study suggests.

The results show that different forces shape the public image of President Bill Clinton and that of his wife, said Anthony Mughan, co-author of the study and professor of political science at Ohio State University.

"It's really quite surprising. We believed the First Lady?s image with the public would be at least somewhat related to the President's, but we didn't find that," Mughan said.

Researchers found that changes in Hillary's Clinton's favorability ratings were driven mostly by the amount of media coverage she received, and less by partisanship and national issues such as the economy.

Mughan said that if Hillary Clinton runs for the U.S. Senate in New York, as expected, these results imply that her husband's popularity will neither help nor hurt her campaign.

Mughan conducted the study with Barry Burden, a former graduate student at Ohio State now at Harvard University. It was published in a recent issue of the journal Public Opinion Quarterly.

For the study, the researchers analyzed month-by-month poll results between January 1993 and December 1997 that asked Americans whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the First Lady. They used surveys conducted by the CBS, Gallup and Yankelovich polling organizations. They then compared these to results of polls that asked Americans whether they approved of the job that President Clinton was doing.

"We found that there was no relation between the poll results for Hillary Clinton and those for Bill Clinton," Mughan said. "This suggests Hillary Clinton is her own person in the eyes of the American people and not a pale reflection of a highly visible husband."

Mughan said the study also examined what exactly drove Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings among the public. Results showed that the state of the economy did not influence her ratings, like they do the President's. In addition, partisanship didn't explain how her popularity waxed and waned.

"Obviously, Hillary is more popular among Democrats than she is among Republicans," Mughan said. "But that can't explain why her favorability ratings ranged from about 70 percent to about 50 percent. The number of Democrats didn't change that much."

The study found that Hillary Clinton's prominence in the media was the most important influence on how her popularity rose and fell during the study period. The researchers looked at coverage of the First Lady in four major newspapers, and separated the stories into those that covered scandals -- such as Travelgate and Whitewater -- and those that covered other issues. Overall, the more non-scandal stories in the newspapers, the higher the favorability ratings. Scandal stories lowered her ratings. In fact, scandal stories had twice as strong an effect on public reaction than did the other stories.

"Negative coverage in the nation's leading newspapers has a greater impact on the public than does positive coverage," Mughan said. "The clear rise in newspaper scandal coverage in 1994 probably explains much of Hillary Clinton's popular free fall during that period."

Surprisingly, though, the findings revealed that scandal-based coverage of the First Lady on the major television network news programs was associated with higher favorability ratings among the public. While this result was surprising, Mughan said it fits with theories that frequent television viewers do not remember much information beyond visual images.

"In the case of television coverage, this may mean that any coverage is good coverage," he said.

Although the study wasn't designed to look at the issue, Mughan said the results may have some implications for Hillary Clinton's possible Senate bid in New York. Based on these results, her husband will neither be an asset or liability to her efforts, Mughan explained. The findings show that her public image now is "free-floating," he said, based not on any stable image, but on the amount and kind of media coverage she is receiving.

"In order to be successful, she probably has to develop some kind of identity with the public so her popularity is anchored. Right now she is dependent on media coverage to define her status with the public," Mughan said.
Contact: Anthony Mughan, (614) 292-9657; Mughan.1@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Media Coverage Articles from Brightsurf:

Intelligent surfaces signal better coverage
A mathematical model shows specialized reflective panels could be deployed on a large scale to enhance communication networks in urban areas.

UC study: More coverage of climate wanted
Large majorities of American news audiences care about climate change and want more information from the media on the topic, according to a new report from the University of Cincinnati, in partnership with Yale University and George Mason University.

Media coverage fostered support for gun control in wake of NZ mosque shootings
Media coverage of the March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings contributed to an increase in public support for gun control, a study by researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington has found.

Level of media coverage for scientific research linked to number of citations
An analysis of over 800 academic research papers on physical health and exercise suggests that the level of popular media coverage for a given paper is strongly linked to the attention it receives within the scientific community.

Examining media coverage of protests worldwide
As anti-racism solidarity protests continue around the world, new research suggests mainstream media have a tendency to focus on the violence and spectacle of a protest rather than the substance.

Canadian chiropractors remove vaccination info on websites after media coverage
The research team conducted a prospective cohort study focused on Canadian chiropractors' websites between July 2016 and April 2019.

Focus on opioids and cannabis in chronic pain media coverage
New Zealand media reports on chronic pain are focusing on treatments involving opioids and cannabis at the expense of best practice non-drug treatments, researchers have found.

Climate change legislation, media coverage drives oil companies' ad spending, study finds
An analysis led by an Institute at Brown for Environment and Society visiting professor found that oil companies ramp up advertising campaigns when they face negative media coverage or new regulations.

Cynical social media voices can erode trust in news media
Amid rising concerns about low public trust in mainstream media institutions, a Rutgers study found that real-life and online social interactions can strongly influence a person's trust in newspaper, TV and online journalism -- but when it comes to online interactions, cynical views are the most influential.

In media coverage of climate change, where are the facts?
The New York Times stands out for its coverage of the environment and climate change.

Read More: Media Coverage News and Media Coverage Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.