Have Hillary Clinton's wealth gaffes begun to hurt her with voters?

It may not be the wealth gaffes that are driving down Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, but rather the higher levels of scrutiny that come with being a likely presidential contender.

Lisa Powell/The Dayton Daily News/AP
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signs copies of her new memoir, 'Hard Choices,'Friday, June 27, 2014, at Books & Co. at The Greene in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Has Hillary Clinton’s standing with American voters been damaged by her wealth gaffes, such as her comment that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House? There’s some new evidence – meaning new polls– out Monday that bolster both “no” and “yes” answers to this question.

On the one hand, 55 percent of Americans say Mrs. Clinton can relate to and understand the problems of average people, according to new NBC/Wall Street Journal survey numbers. Thirty-seven percent said she couldn’t.

“Given all the TV spots, front-page stories, and Sunday show discussions focused on Hillary Clinton’s wealth and her recent ‘dead broke’ comment, these numbers are pretty good for Team Clinton,” write Chuck Todd and the rest of the “First Read” gang Monday at NBC News.

Democrats are Clinton’s big boosters here. Fully 86 percent believe she can relate to the average Joe and Jill, according to the NBC poll. Republicans are much more dismissive, with 28 percent believing she’s in touch with her inner normal person, and 66 percent judging that she is not.

On the other hand, over at Zogby Analytics they have some new numbers out that show the former secretary of State is not performing as well as she used to in head-to-head matchups against possible Republican rivals.

She leads former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 12 percentage points, for instance, 47 to 35 percent. That’s down from 19 points in early May. She’s similarly ahead of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky by 12 points. That’s down from a 17-point lead in May.

“Her past two weeks in the limelight have hurt her with the voting public,” writes pollster John Zogby.

So what’s our take here? First, as always, we’ll caution that individual polls are not definitive. Check out RealClearPolitics compilation of Clinton vs. Bush surveys, for instance, and you’ll see that the numbers are all over the place. They average out to a 10.5 percentage point lead.

That said, what we may be seeing here is a repoliticization of Clinton’s image. In that sense, it may not be the wealth gaffes per se, but just the increasing treatment of her as a likely candidate and the publicity of the book tour as a whole that are driving the latest numbers.

As noted above, Democrats still are solidly supportive of her, in terms of whether she can relate to average voters. The real decline in her position has come with Republicans, and to a lesser extent, independents. GOP voters are going to lean against her in any case. But if she’s actually losing any independents, that could be a problem further on.

Right now, Clinton’s poll numbers are not sinking so much as reverting to normal levels, according to Brendan Nyhan, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

She’s experienced two periods of abnormally high approval ratings: first, during the midst of the Monica Lewinsky and impeachment crisis; and second, when serving as secretary of State, a position generally treated as less partisan by the US media.

“But Ms. Clinton’s re-entry on the political stage over the last few weeks is turning her back into what she was before her stint as Secretary of State: an intensely polarizing political figure,” writes Professor Nyhan at "The Upshot," The New York Times's new online policy section.

Given that, the debate over her wealth comments and the money she and her husband make from speeches is likely to become a permanent feature of the as-yet-undeclared Clinton presidential campaign. Her opponents continue to see it as a vulnerable aspect of her public persona.

“She wants it both ways – to live like a One Percenter while pretending to be down with the ‘struggle’ of Occupy Wall Street,” writes Ed Morrissey Monday at right-leaning "Hot Air."

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