Hillary's Email Controversy Hasn't Changed Much For 2016

Hillary Clinton listens to another panelist during an event at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. (AP)
Hillary Clinton listens to another panelist during an event at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. (AP)

South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy's Benghazi Select Committee announced Friday in a statement that Hillary Clinton had wiped her private email server clean; the committee is getting no additional emails from her; it's leaving open the possibility of a third-party investigation; and Republicans are promising to bring Clinton in for more questioning.

Much of what the committee reported was already known. But the drama is likely to continue to play out — with questions of what she knew and when she knew it — over the next year right smack in the middle of a presidential campaign.

To be sure, the email controversy has not been good for Clinton. Instead of sitting back, watching Republicans duke it out, working on her presidential launch and trying to tailor her message, she has had to defend her exclusive use private email to conduct business as secretary of state.

But for all the attention it's gotten, not much has changed in the polls — so far.

In the nearly three weeks since Clinton's hotly watched press conference at the United Nations, there have been three major polls conducted dealing with Clinton and the emails specifically — CNN/ORC, CBS, and Reuters/Ipsos.

CNN's, conducted March 13-15 — less than a week after Clinton's news conference – showed Clinton continued to lead Republican contenders in similar numbers to before the news broke, and she saw just a slight decline in her favorability ratings from the prior poll.

She beats former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 55-40 percent in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. She beats former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 55-41 percent; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 55-42 percent; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 54-43 percent; and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 56-40 percent.

Her favorability stood at 53 percent positive, 44 percent negative, down from 59-38 percent in November. But that plus-9 rating was better than the entire Republican field. Jeb Bush, for example, was minus-16 (31/47 percent), Walker was even (21/21), and Christie was minus-19 (25/44).

Some of the tightening happening with Clinton's ratings is to be expected as the campaign gears up. When she ran for president in 2007-2008, her positive-to-negative numbers were about even. When she was seen as non-political, as secretary of state, her ratings ballooned. And now, as she is about to likely embark on another presidential bid — as the far-and-away front runner for the Democratic nomination — she is being viewed more politically, and her numbers are returning to somewhere close to split.

In the CBS poll, conducted a little more than a week after the CNN one — from March 21 to 24 — about two-thirds said the email scandal did not change their opinion of Clinton. For fewer than 3-in-10, their opinion of her worsened. About the same percentage of independents also said so.

The poll also found Clinton would not be hurt at all in a primary. (There were no general election head-to-heads either asked or revealed.) In February, 81 percent of Democrats said they would consider voting for her. A month later — and after the news of the emails — it's exactly the same. Two-thirds of Democrats, though, do say they would prefer she have a strong primary.

Clinton's favorability ratings, though, were not strong in the CBS poll. Just 26 percent had a positive view of her, while 37 percent had a negative one. That is a 12-point drop since the fall of 2013 and an even steeper 31-point decline since her high of 57 percent favorable rating as secretary of state. Clinton's ratings, though, have taken a harder hit the CBS poll than in most other polls with a higher percentage of people saying they are undecided about Clinton, someone who has been in the public eye for more than two decades.

Reuters/Ispsos' tracking poll was conducted online — and therefore, is considered by the statistical community to be less reliable than live-caller polls — but a majority said the email story has had no impact on whether they will vote for her in a general election. Similar to CBS, just less than one-in-three said the emails story makes them less likely to vote for her. The poll did, however, find some softening of support among Democrats and support for a third-party investigation.

All of this is to say that this far out from an election, it's important to take a step back and take in all the data. Unquestionably, this email story is far from finished, but, at this point, it doesn't look like it's had a major impact on Clinton's standing.

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