As poll watchers are aware, Hillary Clinton is doing poorly in polls which rate her honesty. A piece published Wednesday by Time magazine suggests her campaign thinks she can overcome that deficit by being the candidate who cares.
Quinnipiac polling in three states (Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) found Hillary was underwater on the question of honesty. In Florida, she was judged not trustworthy by 51-43. In Ohio, it was 53-40. And in Pennsylvania, she did worst of all at 54-40. That follows the trend identified in earlier national polls since the email-server scandal broke.
But Time magazine suggests Hillary’s campaign is more concerned about another set of poll numbers, the ones that involve respondents sense of whether or not the candidate cares about people like them:
But Democrats and Clinton supporters believe that empathy will matter a lot more in the long run, arguing that her low scores on honesty are a reflection of her new status as a partisan political figure. “People are looking first and foremost for someone who will look out for them, fight for them, and get things done for them,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign… The Clinton campaign is building its strategy around that logic.
Hillary’s camp is right about the importance of the empathy question. I’ve argued before that winning candidate in every presidential election, going back to George H.W. Bush, has always laid claim to having superior empathy. Low-information voters who don’t have enough background knowledge to parse and collate every issue raised in a campaign can always fall back on the empathy question. It’s simple: Would this person help me if they could? If so, that sense of caring can trump questions of qualifications and competence.
Compassion may be the superpower most coveted by candidates, but dishonesty works like kryptonite to undermine all of the candidates’s strengths. Put another way, Hillary has become the Brian Williams candidate for 2016. Everyone knows her face, but fewer and fewer believe anything that comes out of her mouth.
And therein lies the conundrum. A majority of voters seem to have already made up their mind that she can’t really be trusted. It’s why the Clinton Cash narrative, and stories like this one, resonates so strongly. They go right to the core question: Does she really care or is she going through the motions out of self-interest?
Hillary’s GOP opponents are already pushing voters to conclude it’s the latter rather than the former. And it seems both sides agree the outcome of the 2016 election will turn on voters’s answers to that central question.