WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Florida governor Jeb Bush in matchups of potential 2016 presidential candidates, a poll released Friday shows, even as her favorable ratings among registered voters have declined.
A drop of nine percentage points in positive attitudes toward Clinton followed intensified probes by Republican congressional leaders into last year’s attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
The survey from Quinnipiac University gave Clinton a lead of 8 percentage points over both Paul and Bush, the only two of several possible Republican White House contenders included in the May 22-28 poll. Clinton topped Paul, 49 percent to 41 percent, and led Bush 48 percent to 40 percent.
“Clinton remains the queen of the 2016 hill at this point, but the wide gap between her and some of the leading Republican contenders on favorability may be closing, as her overall favorability has taken a hit,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Hamden, Conn., school’s polling institute.
Vice President Joe Biden, another potential 2016 Democratic hopeful, trailed both Republicans. Bush would beat Biden, 44 percent to 38 percent, while Paul led the vice president 43 percent to 39 percent.
Clinton, a former first lady who also served as a senator from New York before becoming the top U.S. diplomat, was rated favorably by 52 percent and unfavorably by 40 percent in the latest poll. Shortly after she left the State Department, a Quinnipiac survey in February showed her with a record 61 percent favorable rating to 34 percent negative.
“Her score is down substantially from her all-time high,” Brown said. “One reason for her drop may be that 48 percent of voters blame her either a little or a lot for the death of the American ambassador in Benghazi.”
Envoy Chris Stevens was among four Americans killed in the Sept. 11 attacks by terrorists. Republicans accuse White House officials of initially discounting the terrorism link because of concern about the impact on President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. The State Department also has been criticized for ignoring warnings from intelligence agencies about inadequate security in Libya before the attacks.
Obama has called the continuing congressional focus on the matter a “political circus,” while House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has vowed that “more hearings and more information” are to come.
In the latest survey, Bush was viewed positively and negatively by 29 percent apiece. Paul had a 32 percent favorable rating to 24 percent negative. The poll showed 42 percent didn’t know enough about either man to express an opinion.
Biden was viewed negatively by 44 percent and positively by 37 percent.
“If Ms. Clinton chooses not to run in 2016, the potential Democratic field could include a somewhat unpopular vice president and a number of new faces who are unknown to the vast majority of Americans,” Brown said.
The poll also delivered a mixed message about one of Obama’s top second-term goals: a revision of U.S. immigration policy. Many support one of the proposal’s main – and most controversial – elements, yet most doubt an overhaul will pass.
A majority of voters – 54 percent – favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a key component of bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month and headed to the full chamber for debate in June. The measure also would toughen border security.
In the poll, 29 percent backed deportation of undocumented immigrants, with 12 percent saying they can stay while not being allowed to become citizens.
Almost three-quarters – 71 percent – said they don’t expect an immigration bill to become a law.
“There isn’t a lot of confidence outside the Beltway in the ability of those in Congress to play nice and be productive,” Brown said.
The telephone survey of 1,419 registered voters has an error margin of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.