In the head-to-head polling, Hillary Clinton has gone from a small lead over Donald Trump in the beginning of March to a large lead today. As recently as February, her lead was just 2.8 points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls; today it is 10.6 points — and that’s actually down a bit from last week, when it was an 11.2 percent spread. (These are mostly polls of registered voters, with a few likely voter polls thrown in.)
But if you look at Clinton’s overall favorability rating — i.e., do people like her, do they feel warmly or positively about her — her numbers have been flat or even slightly worse over the past month. (These polls are a mix of adults and registered voters.)
In other words, Clinton hasn’t made people like her that much more; she just looked better compared to Trump as March wore on.
You might think Hillary’s slight dip in her favorable rating represents pro-Bernie Sanders Democrats souring on her, but there’s been an interesting phenomenon at work in the Democratic primary; Hillary Clinton’s national level of support has been pretty consistent all along. In the RCP average, she’s at 51 percent to Sanders’ 42.4 percent. One month ago, on March 1, she was ahead… 49.6 percent to 40 percent. Back on February 1, she was ahead… 51.6 percent to 37.2 percent. On New Year’s Day, she was ahead, 54 percent to 30 percent. (The good news for Hillary is that she’s got a stable floor of support that is right around or just above 50 percent. The bad news is Bernie Sanders is slowly accumulating the large minority of Hillary skeptics — embarrassing, but unlikely to be fatal to her primary bid.)
The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton, as a candidate, hasn’t really changed or improved in this primary season. She’s the same uncomfortable, distrusted, heavily-scripted, inaccessible figure of the status quo she always was, a candidate who can be beaten by a normal opponent in normal circumstances. But because her flaws seem so much more palatable than Trump’s as he campaigns, she’s rising steadily. She isn’t becoming more likeable or popular; she just looks better than the likely Republican option.