By Hunter Schwarz May 19 at 7:30 AM
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington in December as part of the launch of the inaugural National Action Plan Academy, a joint initiative of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Hillary Clinton might have pushed for health-care reform as first lady and visited 112 countries as secretary of state, and she's campaigning on economic issues. But when it comes to how voters think she'd do as president, all of those things rank behind ... race relations?
A Friday Gallup poll found 22 percent more people said Clinton would do a "good job" on race relations than a "bad job" -- her best showing in the poll -- followed by health-care policy, the economy, foreign affairs, terrorism and immigration.
Here are the full results:
She's even viewed better on race relations than Obama is. While 44 percent say she'd do a "good job" on the issue, a December Pew poll found only 40 percent approved of Obama's handling of race relations, while 50 percent disapproved. Only 22 percent said Clinton would do a "bad job."
(In that same Pew poll, a majority said race relations had become worse under Obama.)
That the issue polls better than any other for Clinton is somewhat surprising since it isn't a major theme of her campaign. So far, she's mostly focused on how she would help the middle class. Yet when asked how she'd do as president on "the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S.," her results were split roughly in half, with 35 percent saying she'd do a "good job" and 32 percent saying she'd do a "bad job" -- the second-worst showing of the categories Gallup polled.
Clinton has spoken on race, though, as well as on police and criminal justice issues. Last summer, she took a surprisingly strong stand on Ferguson; at a time when other politicians were focused on police militarization, she discussed inequality in the justice system. And in April, she said the United States must reduce its prison population -- a proposed reversal to an increase that occurred during her husband's administration.
Speaking of her husband, he was the guy sometimes referred to as the "first black president" -- a reference to his work on issues important to African Americans. The numbers above suggest perhaps Hillary Clinton is benefiting from that record. Similarly, Bill Clinton was president during an economic boom time, and the former first lady's numbers on the economy are her second-strongest, at 42 percent "good job" and 28 percent "bad job."
When it comes to winning elections, it's still the economy (stupid). Gallup polls have found the economy and unemployment have both polled above race relations (and just about every other issue) all year long so far. But Clinton's high marks for race relations could be important come November 2016. The percentage of voters who say it's the most important issue doubled from 3 percent in February to 6 percent last month (though that change is still within the margin of error), according to Gallup. Clinton will also want to replicate similar figures that Obama had with Hispanic and black voters in 2008 and 2012, and being known as a strong candidate on race relations could help with that.
Depending on what happens between now and Election Day, concern over race relations, policing and incarceration could become even more pronounced, and the number of voters who are looking for a leader on this issue could grow. And given her need to replicate the Obama coalition and the apparent belief in her ability to handle the issue, it could be an area she'll focus on -- at some point.