By Harry Enten – – – – –
It’s difficult to cover campaign stories involving candidate spouses. Are they political combatants? Bystanders? A mix of both? But the story of this convention right now is Melania Trump. Last night, she gave a speech at the Republican National Convention that in some portions mirrored Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. I have no idea how much effect, if any, accusations of plagiarism will have on the campaign, but it’s clear that Melania Trump is already one of the least popular nominee spouses since 1988.
According to Gallup, Melania Trump has just a 28 percent favorable rating compared to a 32 percent unfavorable rating. That means her net favorability rating is -4 percentage points. That’s lower than Bill Clinton’s net favorability, which is +6 percentage points, according to a recent CNN/ORC survey. It’s also lower than the net favorability of every presidential nominee’s spouse in every final campaign poll that asked the question since 1988.1
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Of course, having a popular spouse is no guarantee of winning an election. Barbara Bush, in 1992, was the most popular spouse from 1988 to the present, and her husband, George H.W. Bush, went on to lose that election. Moreover, being an unpopular spouse isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to lose an election, either. Hillary Clinton had the second-lowest net favorability of any spouse of a nominee in 1996, and Bill Clinton easily won re-election. John Kerry nearly won the 2004 election despite his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, being the only spouse with a net negative favorability rating at the end of the campaign since 1988.
- This is a slightly apples-to-oranges comparison, comparing Melania Trump’s favorability now to other spouses’ favorability at the end of the campaigns. The Trump campaign, of course, has plenty of time to improve Melania’s image. That said, she is also less popular than any spouse at this point since 1992, according to Gallup.
Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.