Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democrats outdistance the Republicans in public esteem, illustrating how far the GOP has to go to be competitive in the next presidential race.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Bill Clinton, who served eight years as president, remains a popular figure. About 54 percent of Americans say they have positive feelings toward him and only 26 percent have negative feelings.
Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, ex-U.S. senator from New York and former secretary of state, isn't far behind, with 51 percent positive ratings and 31 percent negative. She is considering a presidential run in 2016.
Forty-five percent of Americans approve of President Obama's job performance and 50 percent disapprove. This isn't great but it isn't horrible, either. And the Democratic party has slightly more positive than negative ratings, 40 percent to 38 percent.
Overall, the Democrats' ratings tend to be better than the opposition's. Every other political figure and every other organization tested in the NBC/Journal poll gets more negative ratings than positive ones.
For example, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has 24 percent negative and 23 percent positive ratings but most voters don't know enough about him to make a judgment. He is a potential GOP candidate for president in 2016.
The Republican party's rating is 44 percent negative and 28 percent positive. The conservative tea party is at 42 percent negative and 25 percent positive.
Political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution says it's all about pragmatism. His conclusion is that people long for the best of what the Clintons offered during their eight years in the White House. Many Americans see former President Clinton's policy achievements outweighing his character problems, as illustrated by the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-lies scandal.
"Part of it is whether you think of those years as a time of peace and prosperity, and we don't see a lot of that now," said Galston, who was a senior White House adviser under Clinton.
"Bill Clinton is a very compelling public figure," Galston told me. "And Hillary has become a first-name icon. People are fascinated with her. They're fascinated with her as secretary of state, and with how she was a workhorse and not a showhorse in the Senate, and with her loyalty to the president [when she was first lady]."