Should Hillary Clinton worry about her latest drop in the polls?

Hillary Clinton has taken a beating in the polls on e-mails and donations. So far, the controversies are peeling away Republicans who likely would have returned to their own party.

Jim Young/Reuters
US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton looks through some toy glasses while shopping in Independence, Iowa on Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton’s been hit with lots of tough news reports in recent weeks. For instance, many journalists have been exploring the nexus between the Clinton Foundation, its donors, and Mrs. Clinton’s actions as secretary of State. Others have taken hard looks at the Clinton family’s personal finances. Did you know Bill and Hillary Clinton have made about $25 million giving speeches since January 2014? That’s what The Washington Post reported. Wow. Just think how much that is, per anecdote.

Clinton’s pesky e-mails also continue to generate headlines. You know – the ones that she sent via her own private server while she was secretary of State. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the State Department to release those on a rolling basis after they’re reviewed. Foggy Bottom had preferred to wait and make them public all at once.

But is this steady stream of negativity hurting Clinton’s standing with the public? We’d argue that it isn’t, really. What it is doing is help push away voters who weren’t actually going to mark a ballot for her in the end. That exodus was inevitable. The only question was when it would happen.

“Hillary Clinton has thus far weathered the political storms swirling around her fairly well,” concluded Gallup’s Lydia Saad in a recent analysis of Clinton’s electoral position.

A quick glance at a chart of Clinton’s favorability ratings and you would not think that’s the case. She appears to be on a steady decline in this important measure. In November 2012, about 58 percent of voters had a positive view of her, and 33 percent had a negative view, according to Huffpost Pollster’s rolling average of major surveys. Today those two lines have converged. About 46 percent of voters have a favorable impression of Clinton, while 48 percent have a negative one.

She’s been dropping steadily. She’s one of the most famous people in the world, so voters must have had a strong impression of her already. It looks as if they’re changing their minds, and not in a good way as far as the Democrats are concerned.

However, the vast majority of the erosion in Clinton’s favorability ratings has occurred among self-described Republicans and Republican leaners. In March, about 75 percent of Republicans viewed her negatively, according to Gallup’s own figures. Now, 90 percent do.

“Over the same period, her unfavorable rating has increased only three percentage points among independents and Democrats, hardly significant except that it has held at this slightly higher level for two months,” writes Ms. Saad.

Those Republicans weren’t going to vote for her anyway. They were going to come home to their party’s nominee, when that person is named. Partisanship is one of the strongest predictors of eventual choice in a presidential election.

Clinton’s overall numbers were high when she was serving as secretary of State, the emissary of the nation. When she quit and morphed into just another politician, her numbers reverted to what they’d been before she walked into Foggy Bottom.

She’s been here before, poll-wise. That’s one of the singular things about Hillary Clinton. As a Pew study pointed out two years ago, Clinton in her time in the public eye has fallen underwater in her favorability rating at least four times previously, and then recovered to a height of 50 or 60 percent approval.

“It is rare for a political figure to accomplish that feat once in a career, much less four times,” wrote Pew in 2012.

That’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon, given the partisan nature of a White House race. But it’s an indication of the resilience of Clinton’s image against the long backdrop of the tumult of her years as first lady, senator, and presidential candidate.

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