Is Hillary Clinton in Trouble?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks on immigration at an event at Rancho High School Tuesday, May 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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You cannot be in that much trouble if you are looking at the beginning of a long run for President, which will end almost a year and a half from now, and still lead every plausible opposition candidate. That’s where Hillary Clinton is right now. For various reasons, I still think her chances of being elected next November are good. But the latest polls do point to a real issue for her – not just the sort of nonsense you hear from media organizations who sponsor the polls or the hyperactive beltway horserace watchers.

Let’s look at the numbers.

Let’s first note that it went without saying that Clinton’s favorability numbers would drop precipitously after she left the State Department. Anybody who didn’t know this in advance is totally ignorant of contemporary US politics. It’s a good measure of the polarization of our political era that someone can be generally admired by a broad cross-section of the public but when they enter the gravitational field of partisan politics they quickly align more or less with the partisan divisions which characterize the country at large. That slight ‘more or less’ makes all the difference. But the partisan polarization of the age defines everything.

So the long downward slope in her numbers since early 2013, and especially over the last year since her second presidential run became a virtual certainty, aren’t a surprise.

What is notable is that her favorability numbers and particularly her ‘honest and trustworthy’ numbers have moved significantly over just the last couple months.

So for instance, the most recent Quinnipiac poll still shows Clinton beating all comers from the Republican side. Those she beats by only a few points (Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) are the ones the public knows the least about – and thus the ones who likely have the furthest to fall. But Clinton’s ‘honest and trustworthy’ number is only 39% compared to 53% who give her a negative answer on that question. The CNN poll (while more weighted against Democratic candidates) is particularly striking. That ‘honest and trustworthy’ question was 50% to 49% in March. It’s 42% to 57% in their poll from the end of May!

That’s not just a big move. It’s a very big move for a candidate who has near 100% name recognition and who the public has known for something like a quarter century. When the public knows you that well your numbers on key questions like this should be pretty stable.

It’s very hard to imagine that the erosion on the ‘honest and trustworthy’ number isn’t tied to the hammering Clinton has taken on the email server issue and the Clinton Foundation funding questions. (Her ‘leadership’ numbers, for instance, remain strong.) It seems clear that it’s the movement on that question that is weighing down her overall favorability.

Those attacks – whatever you think of them – have definitely landed a blow.

What Clinton has in her favor are very strong numbers on leadership and a GOP field that is still extremely weak.

As I said above, an extremely well-known candidate should have quite stable numbers on basic support attributes, as opposed to horserace numbers which can bounce all over the place. My question is, since this drop sort of breaks that mold, will they be similarly elastic on the upside?

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