How 2016 Hillary Clinton Differs From 2008 Hillary Clinton, Because A Lot's Changed In 8 Years
Election season is kicking into high gear. While the Republican nominating contest has essentially descended into a food fight, the Democratic primary has been a lot quieter. Hillary Clinton is still the frontrunner, as she was lat year and the year before. But wait, wasn't she also assumed to be the shoo-in for the presidency eight years ago, which famously didn’t happen? So, what’s the difference between Hillary Clinton ’16 and Clinton ’08? The answer is, a lot.
First of all, public attitudes toward several hot-button issues have shifted drastically in the last eight years, and that’s reflected in Clinton’s positions. A majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, for example; while Clinton supported medical marijuana back in '08, this time she’s calling for the rescheduling of marijuana at the federal level, a much bigger step that would open the door to federal research into marijuana's medical properties (which is currently illegal). Marriage equality is another issue that’s undergone a sea change since '08; Clinton, like Obama and many Democrats, opposed gay marriage rights in '08, but now she openly supports them (as does most of the country).
Another big difference between '16 and '08 is that this time, Clinton is running for president after serving in one of the highest-level positions in American government: secretary of state. Her record at the State Department, of course, is the topic of fierce debate between Democrats and Republicans, but the simple fact that she held the position makes it much more difficult to argue — as Republicans did in '08 — that she lacks significant foreign policy experience at the executive level.
Other changes stem not necessarily from Clinton herself, but the political environment in which she’s running. In the ’08 primary, Clinton had to compete with the juggernaut that was Barack Obama. At the time, the Iraq War was an extremely animating issue for Democratic voters at the time; Obama could boast of having opposed it from day one, while Clinton was stuck defending her vote in the Senate to go to war. And while it wasn’t remarked upon at the time, Obama actually had quite a bit of behind-the-scenes support from powerful Democrats during his run, something that slowly but steadily hindered Clinton’s efforts.
Compare that to now. While Bernie Sanders has undeniably influenced Clinton’s policy platforms, he does not represent the same threat level as Obama did. Clinton has crushed Sanders in fundraising this cycle, whereas in ’08, she and Obama were roughly neck-and-neck. Her polling — more specifically, the share of the Democratic vote that she gets in polls — is about 21 points higher than on a state-by-state basis than it was in ’08, according to FiveThirtyEight. And she has over 300 endorsement from sitting elected officials, compared to zero for Sanders. While Obama did trail Clinton in endorsements in ’08, the difference wasn’t nearly as stark; Obama did have some endorsements from sitting Democrats.
(The causal effect that endorsements have on a candidate’s chances is highly debatable, but what’s not debatable is the fact that historically, endorsements are one of the best predictors of the eventual winners in primaries.)
The cumulative effect of all this is that Clinton is far more well-positioned to win the Democratic nomination in 2016 than she was in 2008. While she was assumed to be the frontrunner eight years ago, her strength — in fundraising, polling and endorsements — was vastly overrated. This time, it isn’t.
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