“Let me say this…I really do hope we have a woman president in my lifetime.” Hillary Clinton, former first lady and secretary of state, said this in Toronto in 2013. Now, just days before the 2016 presidential election, she stands poised fulfill her own dreams.
The support is there to make HRC’s hopes a reality. According to the Her Campus Pre-Election Survey #3, 60 percent of college women would vote for Hillary Clinton right now if they had to. But do they like her?
Our survey shows mixed results. Only 28 percent had a positive impression of her. Meanwhile, 42 percent had a negative impression of the former secretary of state, while the rest of the surveyed women were neutral.
The vast majority—83 percent, that is—of women had a negative impression of Donald Trump. This disapproval of Trump could actually be the reason why so many women are voting for Clinton. About 60 percent of the respondents to HC’s survey who said they’re #WithHer stated that Hillary was simply the lesser of two evils. Similarly, a McClatchy-Marist poll showed that 62 percent of Hillary’s 18 to 29-year-old supporters chose to stand with her because they’re against Trump, rather than specifically supporting Clinton’s policies.
This “lesser of two evils” theme is fairly unique to this election season. FiveThirtyEight found that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two most disliked presidential nominees in modern U.S. history. Although Clinton consistently ranks more favorably than Trump, both candidates have net favorability ratings of -10 percentage points or worse.
On paper, women should love Hillary. Her platform focuses on plenty of women’s issues: closing the pay gap, fighting for paid parental leave and affordable child care, standing with Planned Parenthood, confronting violence against women, and protecting women’s reproductive rights.
So why aren’t masses of college women flocking to support Hillary? And where do their views fit into the history of public sentiment about her? We took a closer look at what exactly is going on.
“Hillary spent too much time in the system, and in my opinion it's time for a change…”
Clinton’s lengthy political career has made her the most prepared presidential candidate in history, but it’s also managed to paint her as an untrustworthy, establishment politician.
“Hillary spent too much time in the system, and in my opinion it's time for a change,” said Haley Drutarovsky, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.
Clinton’s experience in politics, while extensive, has also been spotted in controversy and scandals. After earning a law degree from Yale University and marrying Bill Clinton, Hillary served as a public defender. In 1975, she was assigned to the case of a man who raped a 12-year-old girl—and racked up one of the first experiences that would later be used against her in politics. She managed to decrease his possible 30-year prison term to just one year in jail and four years probation.
“When you’re a lawyer you often don’t have the choice as to who you will represent,” Clinton said about the case in an interview with the British online network Mumsnet. “I had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability, which I did.”
Clinton served as first lady from 1993-2001, after Bill Clinton was elected president. In 2001, she became the first American first lady ever to win a seat in public office when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. She served as a United States Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009. Her appointment to the Obama administration cabinet then took Clinton out of U.S. Senate and dropped her into the office of the secretary of state for the nation. It was during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, which lasted until she resigned in 2013, that she became involved in the Benghazi scandal and used a private email server. Finally, in 2016, she became the first woman in American history to become a major political party’s nominee, although issues from her past continue to affect her campaign for president.
It certainly wasn’t easy for Hillary upon entering the public sphere, either. When Bill Clinton lost his reelection bid in 1980 for attorney general of Arkansas, she figured out the hard way that voters had an issue with her. At least, they had an issue with her name, which she kept as “Hillary Rodham” rather than changing to “Hillary Clinton.” In an attempt to appease voters, she decided to go by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1982.
“To say that Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn’t liked in some sizable circles is an understatement. There were many, many comparisons to Lady Macbeth,” Janell Ross wrote in a 2015 Washington Post article.
Intense media coverage of the Clinton family at the time did not help with the pressure Hillary likely felt or the scrutiny she faced. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president, magazines and tabloids covered stories of Bill’s “bimbos” and his mistress Gennifer Flowers, along with accusations of Hillary running off to have sex with a female veterinarian. The couple was often interrogated about marital problems. Questions of Hillary’s style, form and even hair flew at her, while her political opinions and platforms fell to the side. Reporters and TV crews even staked her out at the hospital while Hillary was there for two weeks with her dying father, who had just suffered a stroke. Many thought that she was taking too much time off from the White House. She was, understandably exhausted, while her political aspirations were misunderstood
She had worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. She had her own opinions and tried to take an active role in health care reform. Instead, as Margaret Carlson June wrote in the 1993 Vanity Fair article "A Hundred Days of Hillary," “There remains after three decades greater fascination with what goes on top of a woman’s head than what is in it.” And Clinton didn't do herself any favors when she bristled at those societal expectations.
“You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” Clinton said in 1992 of herself becoming a controversial political figure in addition to her husband.
Of that response, Jackie Judd of ABC News said on PBS’ Frontline, “The damage had been done. She’d been tagged an elitist and an ultra-feminist.”
"A key factor that’s often overlooked by those wondering why Hillary Clinton is often vilified is that men and women still typically view ambitious women with great suspicion," notes Dr. Maryann Barakso, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "From the very beginning of her career it was clear that Clinton was not the typical wife; she worked outside the home and was a full partner with her husband Bill Clinton in his own political ambitions."
In a 1993 Vogue photo shoot, Clinton was described as parting “her lips suggestively…gaz[ing] at the camera with bedroom eyes,” by Conor O’ Cleary in the Irish Times. One well put-together photoshoot led some to question why Clinton, who once glowed of individualism and power, reverted to a mainly feminine image afterward. Naomi Wolf argued to The New York Times in 1993 that “women are eager to affirm the fact that female sexuality should no longer be perceived as undermining female authority but complementing it.”
"I think that when people put aside her actual experience and judge her for things that she wears, or the attitude she has, or the amount she smiles, that's sexism," said Megan Monahan, a junior at Saint John's University in Queens, NY.
Clinton poured her heart into health care reform as FLOTUS, but her plan—numbering over 1,000 pages—was eventually defeated in Congress in 1994, effectively weakening Clinton’s attempts at becoming politically important. Her disapproval ratings soon rose to about 45 percent. Her approval ratings would not go up again until 1998, toward the tail-end of the Clinton era. This was likely because she stood by her husband as he dealt with a possible impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
These remained high until 2001, when Gallup noted that her ratings dipped to under 45 percent favorability. This linked with her election to U.S. Senate. During her tenure, these ratings rose and fell, ultimately peaking with her time as secretary of state. That is, until the Benghazi scandal.
"It's hard to look at events like Benghazi and the email scandal and say 'That was an innocent mistake,' and those two events were monumental enough for me to say 'Okay, maybe I should vote 3rd party'..."
The Sept. 11, 2012 attack of the U.S. base in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans killed, has haunted Hillary ever since. As the secretary of state, Clinton was in charge of and ultimately responsible for the lack of security in Benghazi that left the Americans so vulnerable. Republican politicians have also charged that she knew that there were planned terrorist attacks that night and did not prevent them.
Investigators found nothing indicating Clinton wrongdoing with respect to Benghazi within the 33 congressional hearings and four public hearings that were held by the House Benghazi Committee, so the issue is receding. But the investigation did reveal that Clinton used a private email server as secretary of state.
From 2009 to 2013, Clinton used her own personal email rather than her State Department one. This led to the mishandling of thousands of classified or sensitive emails. The scandal also furthered the distrust Americans had for Clinton. Her approval ratings dropped as she resigned from her position as U.S. secretary of state. Although the Department of Justice decided not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary, her use of the server has tarnished much of her campaign, especially with emails still being released as public records—the emails that she did not delete as “personal,” that is.
Outside of these larger scandals, there were also the millions of dollars that the Clintons have both received for paid speeches. There's the Whitewater scandal. Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. Vince Foster’s suicide. When you’re in the public sphere for more than two decades, the controversies can pile up. And, in Hillary’s case, the mountain of scandals is still building, dangerously looming over her campaign’s attempts to woo voters.
“She is a criminal, and a stereotypical ‘politician’ who says what everyone wants to hear but never enforces any of it once in office,” Drutarovsky said.
“Clinton comes across as somewhat aloof and remote, making it hard for women to identify with her…”
“Ultimately, I think that the misgivings women have about Clinton are similar to those held by men—namely, many Americans simply do not find her to be a trustworthy candidate,” said Kaylee Johnson, a doctoral candidate of American politics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “Young women in particular may distrust her because of her wealth, and because she is a ‘career politician’ who does not understand the life experiences of young women (and young people, more generally) in this country. Clinton comes across as somewhat aloof and remote, making it hard for women to identify with her.”
This means that Clinton has been caught in controversy since 1975, and has been an extremely public figure since her husband ran for the 1992 election. Throughout that, say, 24-year span, there have been plenty of anti-Hillary criticisms in the media. Hating Hillary is not a new thing. There is an actual 1996 article titled “Hating Hillary” in The New Yorker, in which Clinton as first lady is cast as a Mrs. Jellyby—someone who is interested in distant charities, but ignores interpersonal connections closer to her.
Some have described meeting Clinton as a surreal, not-at-all-expected experience. For example, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in “Hating Hillary,” recalled his surprise at how much of a “charmer” Hillary is. Clinton, known for her distrust of the media, certainly could not and still often can’t convey that emotional openness publicly.
Writer Rebecca Traister discovered the same phenomenon when she profiled Hillary Clinton last May. “Her inner circle claims to see her—to really see her, and really like her—every day,” wrote Traister in her New York Magazine article. “They say she is so different one-on-one, funny and warm and devastatingly smart. It’s hard for people who know her to comprehend why the rest of America can’t see what they do.”
“I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional,” Clinton said in an interview with the blog Humans of New York. “But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off’.”
“I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard. My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I'll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”
A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on
“I don't plan on voting for Clinton because as a Bernie supporter she acted like she did not need my vote for months, insulted me and acted as if I was ridiculous.”
The anti-establishment phenomenon that began as Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and culminated to the Bernie Sanders campaign created a huge problem for Hillary Clinton.
“I don't plan on voting for Clinton because as a Bernie supporter she acted like she did not need my vote for months, insulted me and acted as if I was ridiculous. She didn't support gay marriage until 2013, she only supported a $12 [per hour] minimum wage, she is also corrupt and has the complete opposite values as myself,” said Meri Roche, a sophomore at Hartwick College. “Her voting record as a senator goes against my beliefs. She also is funded by huge corporations and super PACs, she isn't for the legalization of marijuana and she supports the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]." [Note: Hillary' may have supported the TPP as late as June 2015, but her current, announced platform is against it]
Roche, who plans on voting for Jill Stein, falls into the realm of many Bernie-or-Busters. According to The Washington Post, only 43 percent of Sanders backers viewed Clinton as honest in late September.
Bernie Sanders supporters were undeniably embittered by their primary defeat. "We must elect Hillary Clinton," Sanders announced to his supporters, who flung "Boos" and "We want Bernie" chants in his direction during the Democratic National Convention in July. "The support we have received from every state in this country has been extraordinary, and the grass roots activism is unprecedented in modern American history...Make no mistake about it, we have made history.”
At the beginning of the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia, Penn., WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails from top members of the Democratic National Committee. Some of these emails suggested that high-ranking DNC officials showed notable favoritism toward Clinton from the beginning, and may have even tried to sabotage Sanders' campaign. “Hell no, DNC! We won’t vote for Hillary!” reverberated through crowds of angry Sanders supporters there, who later labeled Sanders' support of her a traitorous.
Bernie's speech brought out a lot of emotions.https://t.co/yvj8fvM67p
— VICE News (@vicenews) July 26, 2016
As late as September, hacked audio clips of Hillary exhibit her describing Bernie Sanders supporters as "children of the Great Recession" who are "living in their parents' basement."
"If you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing," Clinton said in the tapes.
"No matter what Secretary Clinton may have said years ago behind closed doors, what's important today is that millions of people stand up and demand that the Democratic Party implement the most progressive platform in the history of our country," Sanders responded according to The Washington Post, encouraging his voters once again to choose Clinton over Trump.
According to Forbes, Clinton's unfavorability rating among Bernie voters was 68 percent in mid-July. That number dropped to 55 percent by October—a slow, but somewhat reassuring sign of at least some sort of reconciliation of hurt feelings among voters.
Being a woman in politics for decades has led to a slew of controversies that, even to this day, Clinton has not necessarily overcome. "Although she probably doesn't have my vote, Its encouraging as a female to see her in such a powerful position," Drutarovsky said. "It's nice to see qualities like perseverance and drive in one of the most talked about females at the moment. It teaches young girls that they can be a doctor, president, or engineer. Hopefully Hillary will pave the way for more and more females to start following their dreams and stop looking at their gender as a determining factor."
From being questioned on the use of her maiden name, to dealing with more than 11 hours of being grilled with questions at the Benghazi hearing, Clinton has truly dealt with it all. It's no mystery why many college women do not love, support or trust her, but it’s also important to appreciate how tough it’s been for Clinton to navigate being a powerful woman in American politics for over two decades. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of admiring or despising Hillary, the best way to make a statement is to VOTE. #OurVoteCounts...so get out there and hit the ballots, where you really could decide who will be our next president.