The FBI Story Hasn't Changed Many Americans' Minds About Hillary Clinton

Most Americans see the ongoing saga over Hillary Clinton’s emails as a serious problem, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, but very few think the latest chapter sheds any new light on the Democratic nominee.

Fifty-one percent of Americans say Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business while secretary of state is a very serious problem, with 65 percent saying it’s at least somewhat serious, according to the survey. The survey was taken after the FBI announced last Friday that it was reviewing emails related to Clinton’s handling of sensitive government information.

The percentage who view it as “very serious” is up 8 points from a May YouGov survey. Democrats and independents are 4 points more likely to describe her emails as a very serious problem than they were in the earlier poll, rising to 16 percent and 48 percent respectively, but the biggest movement was among the GOP. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans now call Clinton’s emails a very serious problem, up from 76 percent in May.

By a 12-point margin, 49 percent to 37 percent, Americans currently say that the FBI story is relevant to the election, rather than a distraction. Eighty-one percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents, but just 16 percent of Democrats, see the story as relevant.

Certainly, having speculation about her emails splashed across every TV screen and front page less than two weeks out from the election isn’t good news for Clinton, not least because the candidate getting the lion’s share of media attention this year has tended to struggle in the polls.

But the divide between Democrats and Republicans hints at a wider dynamic of the race: Views of both candidates are mostly baked in, and split largely along party lines. The FBI’s announcement ― especially given how much it is lacking in concrete detail ― seems to be functioning as a kind of political inkblot test, with Americans reading into it whatever they were already inclined to believe beforehand. Republicans may be increasingly dubious about Clinton’s ethics, but most were never at any risk of voting for her, either.

Accordingly, Americans are strikingly unlikely to say that the story has changed their mind about Clinton. Just 5 percent say the latest development tells them anything new about Clinton, while 52 percent say it confirms what they already thought of her, and 34 percent that it doesn’t have much effect on their opinion of her.

A 63 percent majority of Democrats say the story doesn’t affect their view of Clinton, while 50 percent of independents and 84 percent of Republicans say that it strengthens their pre-existing suspicions about her.

Similarly, scandals relating to Trump have failed to dramatically shift the public’s view of him. The leaked video of him bragging about groping women may have cost him some high-profile endorsements among office-holders, but it had only a negligible effect on whether voters believed he respected women.

Both the Trump tape and the controversy swirling around Clinton’s emails feed readily into the most negative portraits drawn by each candidate’s opponents ― that he’s inexcusably sexist, and that she’s corrupt. But the people most convinced the newest stories are evidence of each candidate’s unsuitability are the ones who already disliked them. Clinton and Trump’s supporters, in contrast, seem more or less willing to shrug them off.

“I do not equate sexual assault with mishandling of classified information, but it strikes me that the cognitive task before voters is similar,” Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida, wrote Sunday, noting the overall stability of the early vote so far. “In both cases, voters have a mountain of evidence already placed before them. One more woman making an accusation against Trump will not change voters’ assessments of the veracity of the totality of the allegations. Similarly, possibly finding new Clinton-related emails ― without any further evidence that they are relevant ― does not change voters’ assessments of Clinton on this issue.”

Another question on the HuffPost/YouGov survey further bears that out. By a 50-point margin, 65 percent to 15 percent, Democrats say that allegations about Trump sexually assaulting women are more important than the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s emails. By an 81-point margin, 86 percent to 5 percent, Republicans see Clinton’s emails as the more important story. (Independents, by a 24-point margin, also consider Clinton’s emails more important, although those who lean toward the Democratic Party feel differently.)

It’s still somewhat premature to draw any definitive conclusions about what effect the FBI’s announcement has had on the race, especially since surveys prior to Friday already varied significantly on the size of Clinton’s lead. But what evidence there is so far suggests that, despite the news, national polling has remained relatively stable over the weekend. A new NBC/SurveyMonkey tracking poll found Clinton’s lead holding steady at 6 points nationally, while Politico/Morning Consult’s tracking poll also found little change in the race.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Oct. 30-31 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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