Affective Evaluations of First Ladies: A Comparison of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank Tony Eksterowicz for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, and John Gruver for his editorial assistance. The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research provided the data for this analysis.

Valerie A. Sulfaro is an associate professor of political science at James Madison University. Her research on first ladies has appeared in The Presidential Companion and American First Ladies. Her research on public opinion and foreign policy has appeared in American Politics Quarterly and Political Psychology.


This study examines affective evaluations toward Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush during their tenure as first ladies and during Hillary Clinton's subsequent time as a U.S. senator. It was hypothesized that first ladies, rather than being above partisan politics, are evaluated in the same partisan and ideological manner as most political candidates. It was also hypothesized that Laura Bush, as a more traditional first lady, may receive more support from those who are associated with more traditional lifestyles and values. Ultimately, the strongest sources of affect toward first ladies prove to be partisanship and ideology. Moreover, when comparing ideal first ladies, liberals and women prefer Hillary Clinton, and white males and conservatives tend to prefer Nancy Reagan to Laura Bush.