How Americans View Hillary: Popular but Polarizing

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Most Americans agree that Hillary Clinton is intelligent (81%) and that she's politically moderate (67%). She's the Democratic nominee they'd support the most if she runs for President (leading the field with 46%, just ahead of Al Gore's 41). And a majority (53%) agree that she makes a generally favorable impression. They don't agree on much else.

As reported in this week's magazine, red and blue America have strongly divergent views on Hillary. (The complete TIME poll — which will be available on on Monday — shows just how far apart these views are.) It's as though their television sets broadcast two entirely different versions of the evening news. In Blue America, they're watching a Lifetime movie about the country's first female President. In Red America, they're watching Godzilla. In one America, she's smart, committed, likable, with strong values and empathy for people like them, and in the other she's an ambitious, callous appeaser. Republicans also think she's a "divider and not a uniter" (52%). Just going by the numbers, the Republicans have a point.

Hillary Clinton may be the most polarizing figure on the current political landscape. TIME asked respondents about 11 phrases one could use to describe her, from "likable" to "would protect America against terrorism." Democrats and Republicans disagreed by a margin of over 40 points on the applicability of eight of them, and by 50 points on three, including "strong leader" (Republicans 25%, Democrats 77% ), "would protect America against terrorism" (Republicans 17% , Democrats 67% ), and "has strong moral values" (Republicans 16% , Democrats 69% ). Democrats and Republicans come closest in agreement on her intelligence (Republicans 73% , Democrats 91% ) and the likelihood that she "would stand up for issues important to women" (Republicans 60% , Democrats 81% ) — perhaps a sign that, whatever her other problems as a candidate, she is not being held back by gender stereotypes. Or it could mean that Republicans hate her so much they don't care if she's smart.

Partisan divisions even color views of her partisanship. Democrats mostly think she's a moderate (67% ); Republicans think she a liberal (62% ). Hillary proponents have a small reed of hope to grasp in the 60% of independents that agree with Democrats that politically she's "somewhere in between" liberal and conservative. But a look at how independents rate those other descriptive terms suggests that her support among swing voters is lukewarm at best. True, they don't think as negatively of her as Republicans do. Only 35% of independents (versus 60% of Republicans) think she "puts her own political interests ahead of what she really believes," and only 32% (versus 52% ) think she is a "divider, not a uniter". But independents also don't think of her as positively as Democrats do: 46% (versus the 77% of Democrats) see her as a "strong leader," and while 61% of Democrats think she's "likable," just 34% of independents do.

Perhaps the most intriguing partisan divide comes when Bill Clinton enters the picture. Whereas 57% of Democrats agree that Hillary should have stayed with Bill despite his affair with Monica Lewinsky, only 32% of Republicans — backers of the Defense of Marriage Act, remember? think she should have. Independents have the most complicated view of Monicagate: 43% agree that the couple should have stayed together (versus 25% who opt for divorce and 31% not weighing in), but 50% think she stayed with him at least in part to advance her political career. One assumes they're just okay with that.

No matter what their political affiliation, most Americans — 67% — think Bill should play some role in Hillary's campaign. And, really, who would turn down Bill Clinton's campaign advice? But should she win, only 18% think he should play a major role in her administration, with 42% seeing no role at all; even Democrats come down mostly on the side of a minor role (43% ) for the popular former President, with fully 32% wanting him to step aside entirely. Not surprisingly, 61% of Republicans, faced with the prospect of a another Clinton administration, want at least one of those Clintons to step aside.

But will Bill even get the chance to play back-seat driver? For all the good news this poll delivers to Hillary — her strong favorability rating (53% ) and her lead in the field — it seems a grim portent for her chances in a general election. Most of us agree that she's smart, and there's no doubt she wants to win. Does that mean she will figure out how to get red America to see her softer side, or does that mean she'll quit before she can lose?