This election cycle is unique in that both Trump and Clinton are unpopular with large numbers of voters. In fact, they're "among the worst-rated presidential candidates of the last seven decades," according to Gallup.
Perhaps because both candidates are seen as untrustworthy. In an Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll, 59% of registered voters said Hillary Clinton was "not very" or "not at all honest and trustworthy," while 55% said the same about Donald Trump.
But "trust" is used many different ways by many different people. Let's take a closer look at how trust matters (or doesn't matter) in this election year:
Trust levels for each candidate vary widely, depending on the issue. An ABC / Washington Post poll asked people who they trust more to handle the economy, terrorism, immigration and other key issues. While Clinton beat Trump in all cases, the amount by which she was ahead varied widely, from a 2 percent lead on handling the economy to a 34 percent lead on handling race relations. This highlights the need to dig deeper when looking at poll results. An overall measure of trustworthiness may be irrelevant for voters who are focused on one or two key issues.
"Trust" is often based on anecdotes and limited data. The economy is "very important" to three out of four voters, according to a YouGov poll. It's also one of Trump's stronger points among voters. But neither Trump nor Clinton have been president. So voters don't really know exactly how their favorite candidate will handle the economy (or any other issue) if they're voted into the White House. Voters are simply making their predictions based on what they've seen, heard and read about the candidates. Here's an interesting exercise - next time you look at a poll, ask the question, "What are people basing their opinions on?" For example, are Trump supporters basing his trustworthiness on economic issues on his experience as a businessman, his economic vision, a particular line from one of his speeches, or some other factor?
Supporters may not care about their candidate's trustworthiness. Both candidates have faced widely publicized issues that may reflect their trustworthiness--Clinton with her email servers, and Trump with his decision not to release his tax returns. What's interesting is that--while these issues may give their opponents more talking points--true supporters may not care. In fact, a poll from North Carolina found that most Trump supporters do not want him to release his tax returns. Is this because they trust him regardless of his returns, or because they're worried about what will be revealed? The answer isn't clear, but this much is: you're unlikely to sway a Trump or Clinton supporter to switch their vote based on matters of trust.
We already know that politicians are some of the least trusted professions. But by avoiding generalities - and taking a closer look at what "trust" means in each context - you can get a better sense of how it may impact the election.
Today's blog is co-authored with Mike Gluck, my collaborator on Everydata: The Hidden Misinformation in the Little Data You Consume Every Day.