Tag Archives: hillary clinton

Is Trump More Honest Than Hillary?

The latest Quinnipiac nationwide survey of registered voters has Hillary Clinton holding a slight lead over Donald Trump, 45%-41% (margin of error of +/- 2.5%). That’s consistent with the polling averages at Huffington Post, which have Clinton up 42.7%-40.8%, and at RealClearPolitics, which has Clinton leading Trump 44%-42.5%.  Of course, as I’ve noted before, head-to-head polling is still not very predictive at this point in the race, and really won’t be until after the nominating conventions. This is particularly true with Clinton still in a fight for the Democratic nomination, while Trump is moving ahead to unify Republicans behind him. It is also the case that fully 15% of respondents chose not to back either candidate. Nonetheless, it is interesting to look at the internals of recent polls to get a sense of what is driving the results.

Perhaps the most surprising result in the Quinnipiac polls is that when asked who they found more trustworthy and honest, Clinton or Trump, 44% of respondents chose Trump, compared to 39% who selected Clinton. Obviously some of the responses are conditioned by the respondent’s partisan affiliation – Democrats rate Hillary higher, while Republicans view Trump as more trustworthy.  But among independents, Trump led by an even greater 15%, 44%-29%.


How can this be? Isn’t Trump the candidate that Politifact fact-checked and rated close to 80% of the statements of his that they checked as false, mostly false or meriting a Pants on Fire? Given his documented record of making false statements, how could survey respondents rate him more trustworthy than Clinton? This result isn’t unique to Quinnipiac, mind you. In the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, Trump also “led” Clinton 42%-41% among registered voters on the honesty/trustworthiness question.

One explanation is that because Clinton hasn’t been able to secure her party’s nomination, some Democrats and likely Sanders’ supporters are more willing to say that Trump is more trustworthy as a form of protesting Clinton’s candidacy rather than as a statement in favor of Trump’s honesty. As evidence, note that more than twice as many Democrats – 10% – said Trump was more trustworthy than did Republicans – 5% – about Clinton.

A second possible explanation is that Trump draws disproportionately from less educated supporters who may be less able to judge the veracity of Trump’s statements – or less willing to care whether what he says is true or not.

Note that in the Quinnipiac survey, those without a college education are more likely to rate Trump as the more honest of the two than are the college educated.

However, I think a third factor is at play here. For many Trump supporters, his trustworthiness and honesty is not measured by how factually correct his statements are. Instead, it is better gauged by his willingness to speak candidly about issues, even if he does so in ways that are not viewed as politically correct, and which may create a media backlash. Again and again I heard his followers at his rallies say that they appreciated his willingness to talk about issues that other candidates shied away from, regardless of the potential consequences. They tended to dismiss his exaggerations as “Donald being Donald”.  In contrast, for many voters, Clinton often appears too clever by half, with her every statement carefully crafted to appeal to a potential voting bloc or interest group. That, combined with her long history of being embroiled in controversy, from Whitewater through the Lewinsky affair to concerns  about her finances to the current questions about her speaking fees and the ongoing email controversy, has made many voters uneasy regarding her credibility. Her careful parsing of statements regarding whether she exchanged classified material on her private email server is a case in point. Did she lie? Probably not. Was she being completely candid? Many voters have their doubts.

In short, when asked about candidate honesty or trustworthiness, many voters do not respond  in terms of whether the candidates’ statements are factually accurate. Instead, they are using a slightly different metric – one based on whether they think the candidate’s statements are candid and sincere. I was reminded of this a couple weeks back when a CNN panel of talking heads was vigorously debating how much blowback Trump would receive if his tax returns showed that he was only worth $4 billion or even less, as opposed to the more than $10 billion Trump claims. If his tax returns show he is lying, it would certainly earn Trump still another Pants on Fire rating.  And yet my sense is that for potential Trump supporters, the answer isn’t nearly as important as the talking heads were making it out to be. Potential Trump supporters know he is very rich – he practically shouts it at them in every rally, when he explains how he can’t be bought. If it turns out he is only half as rich as he claimed to be, he’s still very rich, and his broader point still holds, at least to his potential supporters.

My point here is not to defend Trump or, for that matter, to make a virtue of his spouting blatant falsehoods. Nor should we exaggerate the differences in the survey results between Trump and Clinton when respondents are asked to compare the two candidates’ honesty and trustworthiness. The difference is not great, at least based on recent polls. But the fact that Trump is viewed by slightly more respondents as more trustworthy, instead of Clinton, does seem somewhat shocking, given the almost daily media story documenting still another Trump statement as untrue. The explanation, I think, is that many voters, when asked about trustworthiness and honesty, think in terms of candidate sincerity and candidness, as much or more than they do about the factual accuracy of candidate statements.

Is Clinton honest? Is Trump? It depends on the meaning of honesty!


Sunday Shorts: Hillary’s Money, Midterm Turnout and Illegal Immigration

It’s Sunday, and that means time for some short takes on trending stories:

In this earlier post I argued, tongue only partly in cheek, that Hillary Clinton may not be rich enough to be a great president. As I pointed out, our greatest presidents as rated by historians are, beginning with George Washington, often extraordinarily wealthy. Indeed, wealth seems to be a predictor of greatness! Despite this, I noted a spate of media stories of late suggesting that Hillary’s wealth may somehow prove to be a stumbling block for the presidency. Not surprisingly, given this narrative, Republican Party operatives have established a website designed to make Clinton’s wealth a campaign issue.

That Republicans are using Clinton’s wealth against her does not surprise Democratic pundit Paul Waldman. However, that the media seem to embrace the same logic does surprise him. As he writes in this Washington Post opinion piece, “But what may be even more remarkable is that so many in the press go right along with this stupidity… There’s a hidden assumption in some of this coverage that candidates should be nothing more than advocates for their class. If you’re rich, then you can’t sincerely care about the well-being of people who aren’t, and anything other than advocacy on behalf of other rich people is odd, even suspect.” The irony here, of course, is that Waldman’s Democratic colleagues used precisely this logic to attack Mitt Romney’s candidacy during the 2012 campaign.

Meanwhile, in an otherwise illuminating discussion of the reasons why midterm election turnout is typically much lower than that for a presidential election campaign, Pew Research Center author Drew DeSilver posted this graph based on research by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist:

As you can see, turnout out for congressional midterm elections was actually higher than for presidential elections during the period 1789-1824, which runs contrary to the norm for most of our nation’s history.  What explains this apparent anomaly?  DeSilver’s answer: “History break: As McDonald’s chart shows, in the early decades of the republic, midterm elections typically drew more voters than presidential contests. Back then, most states only gave voting rights to property owners, and Congress — not the presidency — tended to be the federal government’s main power center and focus of electoral campaigns.” What DeSilver’s explanation does not say, however, is that for the first several presidential elections, many states did not choose electors through the popular vote. In 1792, for example, George Washington won reelection, but only 6 of the 15 states chose electors based on some form of popular input.  It is no wonder, then, that turnout for congressional elections was higher – many people simply did not have the opportunity to vote for the president (or, more properly, for the electors who chose the president). Indeed, it was only after most states began using the popular vote as a means of choosing electors, along with a decline in property-based voting requirements, that popular participation in presidential elections began increasing. That increase in participation provided presidents, beginning with Andrew Jackson in 1828, with an independent base of power and rescued the office from a dangerous dependency on Congress.

Peter Rothschild brought the following Security Weekly article on immigration by Scott Stewart to my attention. You might think, given the extraordinary media attention to the immigration issue, most recently in reaction to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s decision to post the National Guard at his state’s border with Mexico, that we are facing a record influx of illegal immigrants. Think again. Stewart writes, “Lost in all the media hype over this ‘border crisis’ is the fact that in 2013 overall immigration was down significantly from historical levels. According to U.S. Border Patrol apprehension statistics, there were only 420,789 apprehensions in 2013 compared to 1,160,395 in 2004. In fact, from fiscal 1976 to 2010, apprehensions never dropped below 500,000. During that same period, the Border Patrol averaged 1,083,495 apprehensions per year compared to just 420,789 last year.”

Of course, as Stewart acknowledges, apprehensions may not be the best indicator of the rate of illegal border crossings. Still, the data seems to belie the media narrative that the country is enduring an illegal immigration crisis. But it is easy to lose sight of this with the media focus on the apparent increase in undocumented children crossing the border. That story has far greater media legs than does one focusing on the fact that “the Border Patrol will apprehend and process hundreds of thousands fewer people this year than it did each fiscal year from 1976 until 2010.”

Finally, we are scheduled to begin occasional “simulposting” with the Christian Science Monitor sometime this coming week. If past experience is any clue (see the comments to this post on the debt ceiling crisis!), the more visible platform is likely to mean more comments from readers who often have strongly-held views. That’s fine – I always enjoy the comments from readers from both sides of the political aisle and try to respond to all of them. I also exercise a very light touch on the censor button – as long as the comments are civil, I don’t care how passionate the language or what political views are expressed, although it is worth reminding everyone that my response to a comment doesn’t necessarily imply agreement (or disagreement) with that comment.  This is a non-partisan blog – it says so right in the title! I learn a lot from readers, and my hope is that we can continue this dialogue in the months to come.

Have a great Sunday!

Hillary Clinton: Is She Rich Enough To Be President?

Democratic Party activists and leading pundits have of late begun speculating whether Hillary Clinton’s wealth might prove to be an obstacle to her presidential aspirations. But history suggests their concerns are misplaced. The problem is not that Hillary’s too rich. It’s that she’s not rich enough – at least not rich enough to achieve presidential greatness!

As Clinton understands, a major drawback to being the front-runner for your party’s presidential nomination, with no clear rivals in sight, is that the media has no one else to talk about. Journalists, of course, view their mission as speaking truth to power and, not incidentally, they also have a strong preference for a competitive presidential nominating race. For this reason, they have spent considerable time of late, aided by issue activists and other party players, probing for weaknesses in Clinton’s candidacy. This is part of the candidate vetting process that Marty Cohen et al describe in their The Party Decides.  Part of that vetting involves testing possible negative campaign frames to see which ones might have legs on the campaign trail. So far the vetters have discussed Benghazi against the backdrop of Clinton’s record as Secretary of State, her evolving views on gay marriage and, most recently, her personal wealth. The wealth issue was triggered by Clinton’s statement, at the start of her recent book tour, that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House. Critics immediately pounced, noting that given her $200,000 speaking fees and current net worth hovering at an estimated $15 million,  the comments made her seem out of touch with ordinary Americans. More enticing still, pundits speculated that her wealth made her vulnerable to a challenge from a populist candidate (Elizabeth Warren, anyone?) who was not perceived to be so closely tied to Wall St. and the “1 percent”. (See also here and here.)

What are we to make of this effort to characterize Hillary as the poor-woman’s Mitt Romney – a plutocrat out of touch with the average American? History suggests Hillary’s critics are drawing the wrong lesson. Let’s face it – to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway (perhaps apocryphally) paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Presidents are different from you and me. They have more money.” Lots more, in fact. You don’t find very many presidents who were not men of considerable means when they took office.

Interestingly, the wealthier the President, the more likely he (someday she) will be considered one of the greater presidents, based on evaluations by historians and political scientists. (In previous posts I’ve discussed some of the problems with presidential rankings, so I won’t belabor the point here.) Consider the presidents typically ranked as the nation’s greatest: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. With the exception of Lincoln (and who knows where he would be ranked had he served out his second term) all took office possessing great personal wealth – in fact, they are among the wealthiest of all the presidents. Washington ranks second in net worth, just behind JFK. Jefferson is third (although he was mired in debt in his post-presidential years), and TR fourth. Even FDR, the poorest among them at a wealth ranking of only nine (again, excluding Lincoln) based on an estimated net worth in current dollars of $60 million, has 4 times Clinton’s fortune.  All told, at least 17 presidents outrank Hillary in personal wealth and these include some of the highest ranked presidents, including Jackson (ranked 8), Kennedy (11), Adams (12), Madison (13), LBJ (14) and Monroe (15). Indeed, if you control for the usual suspects (death in office, scandal, whether the nation is at war, and if the president won reelection), wealth is a statistically significant predictor of a president’s historical ranking (although I wouldn’t put too much stock in the coefficient)!

Now, to anticipate the expressions of outrage that are sure to flow into my comments section, I am in fact deeply skeptical that there’s any direct link between wealth and presidential greatness, regression results notwithstanding (although I don’t rule out the possibility!) My point is simply that there’s nothing in the historical record that says being wealthy should disqualify you from holding the nation’s highest office.

Indeed, I think that rather than shy away from publicizing her wealth, Hillary should embrace it. Think of the possible slogans!

Hillary Clinton. She’s not a….er…..witch. She’s just rich.

But is she rich enough to be in the “10 percent” of great presidents?

[Update: 12:08.  And now the New York Times piles on by analyzing Chelsea’s speaking fees!]

Meanwhile, Mad magazine has some fun at Hillary’s expense (hat tip to Shelly Sloan):

broke girl


Hillary Clinton on Gay Marriage: “I Think I’m An American!”

Will Hillary Clinton’s evolving views on legalizing gay marriage hurt her presidential prospects?  Probably not.

Clinton is taking heat for her “contentious” and “testy” exchange with NPR host Terry Gross yesterday regarding her evolving support for legalizing gay marriage.  Clinton’s appearance was part of her national book tour touting her new memoir, Hard Choices which chronicles her four years as Secretary of State.  Many pundits see the book tour as a pretest of her 2016 presidential campaign, and thus are using it as a barometer of how well prepared she is to make a second run for the nation’s highest office.  Based on the reaction by pundits to the interview, they do not believe she’s yet battle ready. Critics suggest that in response to Gross’ probing questions Clinton failed to adequately explain when and why her views on the issue of gay marriage changed – was it a case of political opportunism? – and that the exchange made her sound angry and thin-skinned (read: “unpresidential”), proving once again that Clinton is “not very adept” in these more intimate formats. This CNN post-mortem is not atypical of the pundits’ reaction.

The publicity and reaction by pundits to the interview led to an interesting if perhaps unduly complicated Washington Post effort to track Clinton’s “complicated” views, as expressed in the interview, via this flowchart. But in listening to the actual NPR interview with Terry Gross, Clinton’s views on the issue don’t seem very complicated at all. (Here is the particular segment dealing with gay marriage):

(I’ll leave to you to decide whether the exchange with Gross is “testy”.) Instead, it appears that her attitude on the topic has evolved almost in lockstep with those of most Americans. To see how, compare the Washington Post’s timeline of Clinton’s public statements on the issue with the attitudes of Americans on this topic more generally, as captured in survey data. As Clinton alludes to in the interview, when her husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in September, 1996, support for gay marriage was quite low. Not surprisingly, Clinton does not appear to support legalized gay marriage at that time. Since then, support has grown among almost all demographic groups, so that today a majority of Americans support the legalization of gay marriage – as does Clinton.

Moreover, this increase in support has continued into 2014 and shows no signs of abating.

My point here is not to defend (or condemn) Clinton’s evolving attitude toward gay marriage. Clearly she was not in the vanguard of the movement toward marriage equality – something she openly acknowledges in the NPR interview. Most of us who change (grow?) individually do not have to worry that this process will take place publicly, with every statement taken down and potentially used against us as a sign of moral weakness and/or political opportunism. Presidential candidates, however, do not have that luxury. Everything they say can, and will be, used against them by somebody.

I suspect, however, that Hillary’s opponents will not get much traction on this issue in 2016 for the simple reason that although Americans’ support for gay marriage is on the rise, the issue does not have very high salience with most potential voters; as this Gallup survey indicates, gay rights issues barely register on the list of Americans’ non-economic concerns  (look way down the list of concerns to find it!):

It is probable, of course, that the issue will have greater salience among the party activists participating in the Democratic presidential nominating process, but even among this important subgroup I do not believe candidates’ evolving attitudes on gay marriage will be the deciding issue. In short, while the NPR crowd may get fired up by Clinton’s “testy exchange” with Gross, I suspect it will have little impact on her presidential fortunes.

UPDATE 4:39 pm: Charles Franklin posted this figure of aggregrate survey results regarding opinions on gay marriage. Again, it shows Americans’ position evolving in support of same-sex marriage:

Hillary in 2012? Resurrecting the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits

You knew it would happen. One year into the Obama presidency, with health care legislation stymied and the economy still shedding jobs, albeit at a slower pace, and with Obama’s approval/disapproval ratings hovering near the break-even mark, some political pundit was going to raise the inevitable question: should Hillary challenge Obama in 2012?  And so it has, with pundits here and here openly speculating about whether Hillary will take the plunge in 2012.

If Hillary does decide to throw her pantsuits back into the ring, the trigger, according to this columnist will be clear evidence that Iran has acquired nuclear weapons and/or another terrorist attack on U.S. soil following the failed Christmas Day crotch-bombing and the Fort Hood massacre.  Clinton will cite these events, and Obama’s unwillingness to take a harder line against Iran, as her justification for resigning as Secretary of State, thus freeing her to challenge Obama in the 2012 nomination race.  Quoting the familiar “Washington insiders” (and who are they?  Bill Clinton?), the columnist argues that Hillary feels marginalized as Secretary of State and – quoting statistics from my blog – points out that only about half of the secretaries of state serving in the post-World War II era have lasted a full term.  He writes:

“The same, seemingly in-the-know sources say Mrs. Clinton will also resign — and run for president — if there is another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland, such as the Fort Hood massacre by a Muslim fundamentalist Army major, or the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. passenger jet by a Nigerian Islamist, and Mr. Obama does not respond by scrapping his soft approach to terrorism, which includes treating alien enemy combatants as common criminals entitled to civilian court trials, lawyers, and plea bargains.”

Does some significant portion of the public that supported Obama in 2008 now feel buyer’s remorse?  Undoubtedly.  Does Clinton feel marginalized as Secretary of State?  Almost certainly yes.  Did she campaign in part on the argument that she was better prepared than Obama to prosecute the war on terror and to conduct foreign policy more generally (remember that early morning phone call?)  Yes she did.  And does it appear that she has taken a harder line on several key foreign policy issues than Obama?   Well, yes, if leaks regarding her views on Iran and the war in Afghanistan can be believed.

Will all this be enough to trigger a primary challenge?  I doubt it.  To begin, the odds of wresting the party nomination from a sitting president are not good.  The last two serious challenges occurred in 1992, when Pat Buchanan challenged President George Bush the Elder for the Republican nomination, and in 1980, when Ted Kennedy ran against President Jimmy Carter.  Both challenges were triggered by perceptions that the incumbent presidents were vulnerable – perceptions confirmed when both Carter and Bush went on to lose in the general election.  But neither Buchanan nor Kennedy came close to unseating the president, although Kennedy took his fight to the Convention.  And both were later accused, unfairly in my view, for weakening the incumbent in his general election fight.  It takes a pretty hefty ego to think one can buck those odds, or risk the huge backlash if the effort fails and Obama then goes on to lose the general election in 2012.

There is a second reason why I don’t think Clinton will challenge Obama – it strikes me as out of character for her.  I don’t sense that she possesses the all-consuming “fire in the belly” that is necessary to take up a challenge that will be sure to trigger all the animosity toward her that we saw in the 2008 race: the feeling that she has a sense of entitlement, the resentment toward Bill, and the latent gender issues that invariably will bubble up during the campaign.

For what it is worth (and I don’t think it is worth anything) she has denied any interest in running for President again, ever. If Hillary still harbors presidential ambitions, however, it makes more sense, I think, to wait until 2016.   If she is planning on challenging Obama in 2012, however, a triggering event might be a Republican tsunami in the 2010 midterms.  If the Democrats lose control of the Senate, and a significant number – say, 40 or more – seats in the House, and if the economy continues to shed jobs, and there is no health care legislation AND Obama’s approval ratings hover in the lower 40% range, Clinton might yet summon the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits once again, arguing that she is compelled to do so to rescue the Democrat Party.  Her slogan?  “This time vote for real change!”

P.S.  In my initial post on Hillary as Secretary of State, I set the over-under on her tenure at four years, and asked you to predict when she would resign.  Several of you cited Obama’s first State of the Union as the date of departure – sorry! No t-shirt for you!