Who Was Better—Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama?

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Sept. 6 2012 3:17 PM

Who Was Better—Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama?

The Slate/SurveyMonkey snap poll asks, “Just how good was Bubba?”

Bill Clinton addresses the audience at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, on Wednesday, the second day of the DNC.
Bill Clinton addresses the audience at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is Slate’s words correspondent. 

Michelle Obama may have dazzled the DNC on Tuesday, but Wednesday night a maestro took to the podium. Bill Clinton spoke for 49 minutes—and left Democrats wanting more. As John Dickerson pointed out, Bubba managed to convince Americans they are better off, extol the forgotten art of cooperation, and demonstrate how the president’s homegrown values shape his policies. All the while, he bathed the crowd in his signature charisma, handing them one ad-libbed line after another. (That takes some brass!)

It’s a good thing our polling equipment can withstand large outpourings of enthusiasm. For Wednesday night’s Slate/SurveyMonkey’s snap poll, we asked, “Did Bill Clinton’s speech make you more or less likely to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the upcoming election?” An astounding 39.2 percent of respondents reported that they were “much more likely” to support the incumbents. If you add the 17.6 percent who felt “slightly more likely” to support the Democratic ticket, Bubba’s words made 56.8 percent of viewers inclined to vote for Obama and Biden in November. By any measure, a command performance. (Information on respondents is available here. More information about SurveyMonkey Audience is here.)

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Of course, Clinton had most of the crowd eating out of his hand before he even got to the microphone. More than 46 percent of respondents believe that Clinton was a better president than Obama. (Roughly a third hold the opposite opinion, and 21 percent aren’t sure.) Perhaps this is slightly unfair: The former POTUS, who enjoys a 69 percent favorability rating, shines bright for the era of economic prosperity over which he presided. (In a self-aware moment, Clinton told the audience: "No president—not me, not any of my predecessors—could have fully repaired all the damage that [Obama] found in just four years.")

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On Wednesday we hailed a radiant, genuine performance by Michelle Obama—one that inspired 49.4 percent of survey takers to join Team Barack. The first lady’s speech scored better than any speech we had heard from either convention. So our third question aimed to assess how she did against a certified master of the art. We asked: “First Lady Michelle Obama spoke on Tuesday night of the DNC. Former President Bill Clinton spoke on Wednesday night. Who do you believe delivered the better speech—Michelle Obama or Bill Clinton?” Here, the silver-tongued fella from Arkansas won the day, as 49.8 percent of survey takers chose his address over the first lady’s. Another 24.6 percent remained undecided, and 26 percent thought Michelle, the underdog, prevailed. 

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But Thursday night is the main event. It will answer the question now looming over Charlotte: Is Obama as good at talking about his record as Bill Clinton?

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