After A Summer Of Doldrums, Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Seems To Be Back On Track

For much of the summer, the story of the Democratic race for President was the story of Hillary Clinton's seemingly endless problems. Those days seem long gone if the latest polls are any indication.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

For much of the summer, the story of the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination was one of bad news for Hillary Clinton and speculation over whether or not Joe Biden would enter the race. Early in the summer, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose candidacy had largely been dismissed by many professional political observers, began to rise in the polls to the point where he had overtaken Clinton in New Hampshire. To some extent, that rise was dismissed by the observation that Sanders was a Senator representing a neighboring state who was very familiar to New Hampshire Democrats, but the logic of that argument faded when Sanders also began to rise in the polls in Iowa and nationally. While that was going on, Clinton was being hit with repeated reports regarding her use of a private email server while Secretary of State, revelations about donations to the Clinton Foundation, and, starting in August, the very open calculations by Vice-President Biden about his Presidential intentions. Given all of that, it wasn’t all that surprising that Clinton’s poll numbers, and her general favorability numbers, began to fall from the heights that they were at when Clinton entered the race. Even though Clinton’s campaign still had all the advantages it did before the summer, there were those who wondered if the candidate was headed for another choke as she had seen in 2008.

Last week, ahead of the first Democratic debate, Clinton got some good news in the form of poll numbers that seemed to show her halting her decline in the polls. In the debate itself, Clinton seemed to perform quite well and dispelled many of the arguments that others had made for why Vice-President Biden might enter the race. Now, we have a series of new polls that show Clinton getting a significant bump from the debate. The first signs came yesterday in a pair of polls from CNN/ORC and Monmouth University. In the CNN poll, Clinton got a slight bump up to 48%, with Bernie Sanders at 29% and Vice-President Biden at 18%, giving Clinton a sixteen point advantage over Sanders and a thirty point advantage over Biden. In the Monmouth University poll, Clinton is also at 48%, but Sanders is down at 21% and Biden at 17%, giving Clinton a twenty-seven point lead over Sanders and a 31 point lead over Biden. In their own ways, both polls seemed to show that Clinton had accomplished a lot in her debate performance and was in a far better position than she had been beforehand.

Today, Clinton got even more good news.

First up, the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Clinton leading Sanders by twenty points and Biden by thirty-four points:

Hillary Clinton has widened her lead in the Democratic primary race after a strong performance in the party’s first televised debate, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

The poll offered little encouragement for Vice President Joe Biden as he wrestles with whether to enter the contest. For all the respect the vice president enjoys within his party, just 30% of Democratic primary voters said they would like to see him run for the presidential nomination, with 38% saying he shouldn’t run.

The survey, conducted Oct. 15-18, found Mrs. Clinton leading the primary field with 49% support, compared with 29% for Sen. Bernie Sanders, and 15% for Mr. Biden.

Without the vice president on the ballot, Mrs. Clinton’s lead over Mr. Sanders opened to 58% to 33%—a margin 10 percentage points wider than in a Journal/NBC News poll taken in late September, before the Oct. 13 Democratic debate.

Mrs. Clinton was the only Democratic candidate whose standing improved significantly in the post-debate poll. Support for Mr. Sanders dropped 6 percentage points, from 35% in September, on a ballot that included Mr. Biden, and it fell by about the same amount without Mr. Biden in the race.

The widely watched debate had little impact on the three lesser-known candidates, who had hoped for a boost from the national exposure.

(emphasis added)

Then, we got a new poll from ABC News and The Washington Post that puts Clinton back above 50% for the first time in awhile and seemingly insurmountable leads over both Sanders and Biden:

Aided by her performance in the first Democratic debate, Hillary Rodham Clinton has regained much of the ground she lost during a summer of controversy and holds a dominating lead nationally over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the contest for her party’s presidential nomination, according to anew Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Vice President Biden, who has yet to announce whether he will join the Democratic race in the coming days or weeks, runs third amid signs of slippage over the past month. If he were to decide not to run, the poll indicates that much of his current support would go to Clinton rather than Sanders.

By a margin of better than 2-to-1, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents rated Clinton over Sanders as the winner of last week’s debate in Las Vegas. The debate was the first of three events this month that are seen as important tests for Clinton, whose candidacy has been hurt by questions about the security of the private e-mail server and account she used while serving as secretary of state.

On Thursday, Clinton will testify before the House committee that is investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, which led to the deaths of four Americans. Then, on Saturday, she will join other Democratic presidential candidates at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Iowa, a quadrennial testing ground that eight years ago provided a significant boost to then-Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy.

Clinton currently leads the Democratic race with the support of 54 percent of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. That compares with 42 percent in September, by far her lowest level of support over the past two years, and 63 percent in July.

Sanders runs second at 23 percent, almost identical to his September number. The senator from Vermont, who has tapped energy among those in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, saw his support rise steadily through the spring and summer. The latest results mark the first time that his support has not moved from one month to the next.

Biden’s possible candidacy draws the support of 16 percent of Democrats, halting a rise to 21 percent in September. That puts him back about where he was when speculation about a possible candidacy began to ramp up in midsummer.

Without Biden in the field, Clinton’s support jumps 10 points to 64 percent among Democratic-leaning voters. Sanders picks up just 2 points to 25 percent.

None of the other candidates included in the poll — former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former senator Jim Webb of Virginia or former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee — registered more than 2 percent.

(emphasis added)

In the RealClearPolitics national average, Clinton is now at 47.0%, giving her a 21.6 point lead over Sanders, who is at 25.4%, and a 29.7 point over Biden who’s at 17.3%. In the Pollster average of all polling other than Internet-based polls, which includes a larger universe of polls than RealClearPolitics, Clinton leads Sanders by just over twenty-two points and Biden by more than thirty points. The real story of what has happened in the national Democratic polls, though, can be seen in the charts, such as this from RealClearPolitics:

RCP Dem Chart 1020
And this chart from Pollster:

Pollster Dem Chart 1020

In both poll averages, we can clearly see that Clinton seems to have stopped the decline that was plaguing her campaign over the summer, and even begun to reverse it. To some degree, this can attributed to this plethora of post-debate polls that contain very good news for her, but the truth is that it now appears that the decline had halted several weeks ago. Whatever the case, though, it certainly throws the Democratic race in a new light. Instead of the story of a well-funded and well-organized campaign by a seasoned candidate that was seemingly hitting the skids, and a Vice-President apparently plotting behind the scenes to possibly get into the race, we now seem to clearly see the race returning to the status quo it was at before Sanders began chipping away at Clinton’s lead and negative stories began hurting the campaign. Additionally, it’s notable that Vice-President Biden’s numbers have been basically flat, and that most polling now shows that Clinton would benefit significantly if the Vice-President ultimately decides to stay out of the race. If Biden does get in the race, and we still don’t know the answer to that question, it’s probable that these numbers will be upset again but the fact that this polling doesn’t really show a longing for Biden to get into the race and that Clinton seems to be recovering from a bad summer suggests that there wouldn’t be as much momentum to a Biden bid as some observers might think.


FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    For much of the summer, I had a fantasy that the story of the Democratic race for President was the story of Hillary Clinton’s seemingly endless problems.


  2. michael reynolds says:

    Told you way back,months ago I thought it was strategic, that Hillary was deliberately playing rope a dope, letting the attacks go on, lowering expectations, changing the perception from ‘uncrowned queen’ to ‘resurgent underdog.’

    When did we suddenly see Hillary revealed? When it mattered: at the debate.

    Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, barring health emergency or meteorite strike, and she will be the next president of the United States.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Wait until she kicks that little dweebs a$$ on Thursday. Then you’ll see some polling.

  4. stonetools says:

    The thing that was dragging her down all summer was the email “scandal” and the media’s relentless fixation on it, which led to a widespread belief ( among independents and Democratic donors ) that Hillary was vulnerable, that there was something. That blew up the moment Kevin McCarthy opened his big mouth, and since then the Benghazi Committee (and whatever case against Clinton) has self destructed in extraordinary fashion. Now all that remains is the mopping up on Thursday, and I expect the Committee to fade into well deserved obscurity after that.
    Clinton’s debate performance has mostly cleared up any remaining doubts. As I said, Clinton didn’t just win the Democratic debate-she won all the debates. She looked looked crisp, confident and in command on of the issues. Dan Drezner summed it up on this tweet, imagining a pretend Hillary:

    Shorter Hillary Clinton: look at these schmucks. I’m a grown-up. We all know what you should do. No one has to like it.

    I believe if you give Doug and James truth serum, they would admit that Hillary looked the best of ALL the Presidential debaters in both parties thus far, even though they don’t like it. There’s a lot of race to go, and there will be miscues.But right now, Hillary looks like the strongest candidate in either party-and by a country mile, too.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hillary is leading in the Dem polls. Trump is leading in the GOP polls. That tells you all you need to know about the 2 parties.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    Those who recognize me from these pages know I support Clinton from way back during her US Senate days. I’m glad she did well in the debate. But I’m not letting myself get carried away. She is still Hillary and that means she is not a shoe in for anything. She is incredibly talented and hard working, but not exceptionally charismatic. Certainly not awful, as she is often portrayed bythose who get their opinions from “what everyone knows”. And she’s charismatic enough to win. But over the next year she will have ups and downs and during the downs the naysayers will come out and point to her fatal flaws.

    Her greatest strengths? Self knowledge and the focus and drive to prepare like no other national politician. Her greatest weakness? Having invested so much in that strategy and preparation, she is too slow to pivot from it when necessary, and perhaps too slow to even recognize that pivot is required. Over the next 13 months I’m sure we will see demonstrations of both strengths and weaknesses.

  7. Tony W says:

    Still rooting for Bernie, I want to see Larry David on SNL more often.

  8. MikeSJ says:

    She bounced back because the public got to see her unfiltered from the media B.S.

    I was one of her supporters that was very worried about how she was doing – email this, Benghazi that, blah blah blah all summer long.

    I was hoping she could hold her own and not be destroyed on stage…and she went out and kicked ass. There was no second place. God Bless Bernie but please. Larry David could be his stand in he was so spot on.

    The media must have soiled themselves at the end of the debate; their entire narrative that Hillary is crashing and burning got flushed down the toilet.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Wait until she kicks that little dweebs a$$ on Thursday.

    Not sure she’ll get a chance. I kind of think Chairman dweeb boy and his dweeb minions have been chastened and will be on their best behavior Th, trying their poor best to look professional.

  10. Steve Evets says:

    When Clinton was the only Democratic candidate she was accused by others of expecting it to be a coronation although I never heard her make that claim.
    Then I heard people saying that she needed an opponent in order to be a stronger candidate. Finally when she had opposition her poll numbers went down. Wow! Whoever anticipated that ever happening?

    Then Clinton takes the rap from the Sanders’ supporters that she is really a Republican but the GOP seems goes after her tooth and nail like she is the last person they want to run against. You would think they would welcome her candidacy because as a Democratic Republican the election would be a win/win for them no matter who won. There is a candidate that the GOP doesn’t bother with much, except to wish “let it be him, let it be him, let it be him”: Bernie Sanders.

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Hilary and Barack have, at minimum, one thing in common: Neither one could ask for a better set of political enemies.

  12. Facebones says:

    Wow! It’s almost as though her issues were completely manufactured by a hostile media desperate to gin up a horse race! Who’da thunk it?

  13. dmichael says:

    @gVOR08: I truly believe that cone-head Gowdy and his fellow conspirators will not be able to control themselves. Exhibit A is Gowdy’s frantic efforts at damage control by blaming everyone else: HRC, Blumenthal, State and Dems when he is exposed as a liar. Gowdy and the boys are playing to the vehement anti-HRC crowd, not the public in general. Exhibit B is after Cecile Richards handed Chaffetz his sorry ass, Chaffetz immediately decided it was time to run for Speaker because the Crazy Caucus would support him.

  14. Guarneri says:

    Careful, emails may magically be found in the White House. Wait…….oh, those were the Rose law firm billing records. Master cattle futures trader. Master teleportation expert. Part time yoga student and wedding planner.

    A wizard.

  15. Tyrell says:

    Here are some other possible Democrat candidates: Gates, Cuomo, Powell, Bloomberg, Winfrey, Turner. Imagine a Winfrey – Gates ticket: unbeatable. Same for Gates – Powell. Imagine a Winfrey – McGraw ticket: as good as Kennedy – Johnson or Johnson – Humphrey .

  16. Gustopher says:

    All of this means that it is time for Biden to strike!

    (I also half-expect Ryan to suddenly announce on the Republican side, if only to avoid being Speaker)

  17. edmondo says:


    the media’s relentless fixation on it, which led to a widespread belief ( among independents and Democratic donors ) that Hillary was vulnerable,

    Not vulnerable, just sleazy. But since she’s a Clinton, I suppose that’s redundant.

  18. Todd says:

    Democrats are just asking for a President Trump (and yes, I don’t see any reason he won’t be the Republican nominee .. and any Democrats who are gleeful about that prospect are really ignorant.) I don’t like him, I don’t like his policies, but he will beat her, little doubt in my mind.

    Sanders vs. Trump is a bit more interesting, but still not a race I’d be terribly confident about. Although, because there would almost certainly be better turnout, Dems (+ down ticket) would have a higher likelihood of winning.

    The best chance of Democrats keeping the White House is probably Biden, with President Obama enthusiastically campaigning for him.

    But since so many Democrats seem to be dead set on nominating Hillary, I’m going to start mentally preparing myself for President Trump. :-/

  19. An Interested Party says:

    …but he will beat her, little doubt in my mind.

    How’s that??????

  20. Todd says:

    @An Interested Party:

    How’s that??????

    To the extent that campaigns matter, they are not about “policy proposals”, they are about charisma and likeability.

    Hillary Clinton is not terribly strong in either area.

    Donald Trump has both in spades (caveat: likeability could certainly be conditional .. but no doubt about charisma).

    It’s possible that I’m totally out to lunch. But it’s just my gut that this is not a matchup that Democrats should be joyful about. Clinton can beat Bush and Cruz. But against Rubio, or especially Trump, I worry.

  21. stonetools says:


    Clinton vs Trump in a policy debate is a one round knockout.
    Clinton vs Rubio is a TWO round knockout. Now there is much, much more to campaigning than debating, but I think Clinton matches up well on the issues vs most leading Republican candidates.

  22. Grewgills says:

    Do you ever say anything of substance. I swear, you are a less coherent and much less likable Tyrell.

  23. Grewgills says:


    Donald Trump has both in spades (caveat: likeability could certainly be conditional .. but no doubt about charisma).

    I really don’t see that even a little bit. I may be sheltered out here in the middle of the Pacific, but family and friends back in Alabama aren’t seeing it either. I think most of his reality TV success isn’t about people liking him, rather it’s about people enjoying hating him or at least the cartoon he portrays himself as.