The 2016 elections are still a long way off, but that hasn't stopped some pundits from urging Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While neither Clinton nor Warren has announced her plans for 2016, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll found little evidence for one critical assumption behind the Warren boomlet: that potential Democratic primary voters supposedly perceive Clinton as too accommodating to Wall Street.
The poll found that among Americans who said they typically vote in Democratic primaries, just 20 percent believe a President Hillary Clinton "would be too accommodating to Wall Street and big banks," while more than twice as many (49 percent) think Clinton would "stand up to Wall Street and big banks." Nearly one-third (31 percent) said they were not sure.
The speculation that Wall Street resentment might fuel a Warren challenge originates with a 6,000-plus word essay by The New Republic's Noam Scheiber, published in early November. Citing a batch of survey data, Scheiber argued that a majority of Democratic primary voters are "angrier, more disaffected, and altogether more populist than they’ve been in years ... Above all, Democrats are increasingly hostile to Wall Street and believe the government should rein it in."
In response to Scheiber's thesis, Buzzfeed reported that Warren has been telling her own financial backers that she is not running for president. Other pundits have argued that a populist case against Clinton is hard to make on a policy level, that Clinton could pivot in Warren's direction on financial regulation or that the demographics of the Democratic primary electorate limit liberal insurgencies. Others have simply noted the strength of Clinton's early poll numbers, which make her, as The Guardian's Harry Enten put it, "the most formidable presidential nomination frontrunner for a non-incumbent in the modern era."
While Scheiber conceded that Warren "would probably lose" a challenge to Clinton, he wrote that the Massachusetts senator could still have "potentially enormous" influence in shaping the race. He argued that Clinton is vulnerable to attacks on her fundraising ties to Wall Street, and he is "deeply skeptical" that Clinton's taking "a more populist stance" on financial regulation would help. "The lesson here," he wrote, "is that pandering doesn’t work when it’s at odds with what most people already believe about a candidate."
The problem is that few potential Democratic primary voters actually believe Clinton would cater to Wall Street. If anything, Clinton and Warren begin with similar public perceptions of how they would handle the financial sector, at least among those who say they usually vote in Democratic primaries. Forty-nine percent of them said that Clinton would stand up to Wall Street and big banks, compared to 44 percent who said the same of Warren.
Not surprisingly, among potential Democratic primary voters, the perception that Clinton might be too accommodating to Wall Street is highest among college graduates (27 percent) and those who described themselves as very liberal (24 percent). Yet even among these groups, far more -- 44 percent of college graduates and 45 percent of strong liberals -- took the opposite position, saying Clinton would stand up to Wall Street.
Clinton does have more vulnerability on the Wall Street question among all Americans: Thirty-four percent said she would be too accommodating to Wall Street and big banks, while 29 percent said she would stand up to them. Thirty-seven percent said they weren't sure. Independents said Clinton would be too accommodating by a 40 percent to 19 percent margin.
But if Clinton and Warren were to compete for the Democratic nomination, the poll shows that Clinton would begin with an immense early advantage. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners who said they usually vote in Democratic primaries, 47 percent said they definitely plan to support Clinton in 2016, while another 35 percent said they would consider doing so and only 4 percent said they wouldn't even consider it.
By contrast, only 12 percent of those Democrats and Democratic leaners said they would definitely support Warren, another 35 percent said they would consider supporting her, and 14 percent said they wouldn't consider it.
Moreover, 83 percent of those who said they usually vote in Democratic primaries had a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 49 percent felt the same way about Warren. Forty percent said they were unable to rate Warren.
Among Americans as a whole, the former secretary of state is both better known and better liked. Fifty-one percent said they had a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 38 percent had an unfavorable opinion and 11 percent weren't sure. Meanwhile, 26 percent had a favorable opinion of Warren, 25 percent had an unfavorable opinion, and 49 percent weren't sure.
Although polls conducted this far in advance of an election are notoriously poor predictors of the eventual outcome, this survey does suggest that any potential rival will have an uphill battle in convincing Democrats that Hillary Clinton would go soft on Wall Street.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Nov. 12-14 among 2,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.