Poll trajectory points to trouble for Clinton campaign

With less than a week before the Pennsylvania primary, new poll points to an "honesty gap."

By Steve Benen

Published April 16, 2008 2:09PM (EDT)

About a month ago, Gallup released a poll showing Hillary Clinton suffering from what it called an "honesty gap." When poll respondents were asked about the candidates' honesty and trustworthiness, John McCain did very well (67%-27% in his favor), Barack Obama did nearly as well (63%-29% in his favor), while Clinton fared poorly (44%-53% against her).

Worse, the poll was taken before reports surfaced of Clinton misstating what occurred at a Bosnian airport in 1996. If the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is any indication, it appears that the situation has not improved.

Lost in the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign's aggressive attacks on Barack Obama in recent days is a deep and enduring problem that threatens to undercut any inroads Clinton has made in her struggle to overtake him in the Democratic presidential race: She has lost trust among voters, a majority of whom now view her as dishonest.

Her advisers' efforts to deal with the problem -- by having her acknowledge her mistakes and crack self-deprecating jokes -- do not seem to have succeeded. Privately, the aides admit that the recent controversy over her claim to have ducked sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia probably made things worse.

Clinton is viewed as "honest and trustworthy" by just 39 percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 52 percent in May 2006. Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy. And now, compared with Obama, Clinton has a deep trust deficit among Democrats, trailing him by 23 points as the more honest, an area on which she once led both Obama and John Edwards.

It's predictable that Clinton would fare poorly on the question among Republicans, but the poll notes that Clinton's trust level has slipped badly among independents, to 37%, and has even fallen off sharply among Democrats, 63% of whom call her honest, down 18 points from 2006. (Her favorability numbers in general are now lower than at any time since the Post/ABC began asking the question 16 years ago.)

Arguably, this is the worst time for a poll like this to come out. With a likely victory in Pennsylvania on the way, Clinton will once again be in a position to make her strongest electability case to superdelegates. Party leaders will hesitate, however, to rally behind a candidate perceived by most Americans as untrustworthy.

It's a high hurdle to clear in a very short amount of time.

Steve Benen

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