Despite belief that Hillary Clinton's email scandal would be calamitous for her presidential prospects, polling suggests that Democratic voters' perception of Clinton has not been significantly impacted. The incident instead seems to register most saliently with Republican voters.
Over half of all voters considered Clinton’s use of a private email address on a personal server while secretary of state “unethical,” according to a Morning Consult poll. When the data is broken down by party, however, only 36 percent of Democrats called it “unethical,” compared to an overwhelming 85 percent of Republicans. According to the same poll, only 24 percent of Democrats perceived the scandal as “a major problem,” whereas over three-fourths of Republican voters did.
This partisan divide naturally translates to voting tendencies. According to a poll by Suffolk University/USA Today conducted at the start of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server, 74 percent of Democrats said Clinton's actions did not matter in their vote, whereas 79 percent of Republicans said it did matter. Less than half of independent voters said that it impacted their vote.
Polls also suggest that Democrats do not consider the email scandal a relevant indicator of Clinton's ability to govern effectively. According to a CNN/ORC poll conducted directly after the scandal broke, 46 percent of all voters said that the way Clinton handled her email while serving as secretary of state was an important indicator of her character and ability to serve as president, while 52 percent said it was not relevant. When the data is represented by party identification, however, the results are not nearly as split: three-fourths of Democrats said the incident was not “relevant to character,” whereas more than 6-in-10 Republicans said that it was.
Although Clinton’s gradual decline in favorability ratings suggests that she failed to escape the FBI investigation unscathed, she still retains a 5-point lead against Trump, according to our HuffPost Pollster average. However, traces of the scandal are still reflected in public opinion.
The words “liar/dishonest” were ranked highest overall by voters to describe Clinton in a Suffolk/USA Today poll. But this characterization also had a partisan flavor. Among Republicans, these words were indisputably ranked highest -- 73 percent of GOP voters said this was an apt description, whereas only 8 percent of Democrats agreed. Among Democrats, however, the adjectives ranked as best describing Clinton were “smart/intelligent/knowledgeable.”
FBI Director James Comey announced Tuesday that “no charges are appropriate" in Clinton's case, formally ending the bureau's investigation into her handling of classified emails on a private server. However, Republicans in Congress are now calling for new independent counsel to probe the former secretary of state's practices once more. The lasting impact of the email scandal on Clinton's public perception remains to be seen.