News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Clinton's Email Drama Hasn't Had Much Effect On 2016 Prospects

Hillary Clinton listens to another panelist during an event at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Hillary Clinton listens to another panelist during an event at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy's Select Committee on Benghazi announced Friday in a statement that Hillary Clinton had wiped her private email server clean; that the committee is getting no additional emails from her; that it's leaving open the possibility of a third-party investigation; and that Republicans are promising to bring Clinton in for more questioning.

Much of what the committee reported was already known. But the drama is likely to continue to play out — with questions of what she knew and when she knew it — over the next year, smack in the middle of a presidential campaign.

To be sure, the email controversy has not been good for Clinton. Instead of sitting back, watching Republicans duke it out, working on her presidential launch and trying to tailor her message, she has had to defend her exclusive use of private email to conduct business as secretary of state.

But for all the attention it has gotten, not much has changed in the polls.

In the nearly three weeks since Clinton's hotly watched news conference at the United Nations, there have been three major polls conducted dealing with Clinton and the emails specifically — CNN/ORC, Reuters/Ipsos and CBS.

CNN's, conducted March 13 to 15 — less than a week after Clinton's news conference — showed that Clinton continued to lead Republican contenders in numbers similar to her lead before the news broke, and she saw just a slight decline in her favorability ratings from the prior poll.

She wins hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, defeating them 55 to 40 percent. She beats former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 55 to 41 percent; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 55 to 42 percent; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 54 to 43 percent; and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 56 to 40 percent.

Her favorability stood at 53 percent positive, 44 percent negative, down from 59 to 38 percent in November. But that plus 9 rating was better than the entire Republican field. Jeb Bush, for example, was minus 16 (31 to 47 percent), Walker was even (21 to 21) and Christie was minus 19 (25 to 44).

Some of the tightening happening with Clinton's ratings is to be expected as the campaign gears up. When she ran for president in the 2008 election, her positive-to-negative numbers were about even. When she was seen as nonpolitical, as secretary of state, her ratings ballooned. And now, as she is about to likely embark on another presidential bid — as the far-and-away front-runner for the Democratic nomination — she is being viewed more politically, and her numbers are returning to somewhere close to split.

In the CBS poll, conducted from March 21 to 24, a little more than a week after the one conducted by CNN, about two-thirds said the email scandal did not change their opinion of Clinton. For fewer than 3 in 10, their opinion of her worsened. About the same percentage of independents also said so.

The poll also found Clinton would not be hurt at all in a primary. (There were no general election head-to-heads either asked or revealed.) In February, 81 percent of Democrats said they would consider voting for her. A month later — and after the news of the emails — it's exactly the same. Two-thirds of Democrats, though, do say they would prefer she have a strong primary.

Clinton's favorability ratings, though, were not strong in the CBS poll. Just 26 percent had a positive view of her, while 37 percent had a negative one. That is a 12-point drop since the fall of 2013 and an even steeper 31-point decline since her high of 57 percent favorable rating as secretary of state. Clinton's ratings, though, have taken a harder hit in the CBS poll than in most other polls, with a higher percentage of people saying they are undecided about Clinton, someone who has been in the public eye for more than two decades.

Reuters/Ispsos' tracking poll was conducted online — and therefore is considered by the statistical community to be less reliable than live-caller polls — but a majority said the email story has had no impact on whether they will vote for her in a general election. Similar to CBS, just fewer than 1 in 3 said the emails story makes them less likely to vote for her. The poll did, however, find some softening of support among Democrats and support for a third-party investigation.

All of this is to say that this far out from an election, it's important to take a step back and take in all the data. Unquestionably, this email story is far from finished, but at this point, it doesn't look like it has had a major impact on Clinton's standing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.