To a right-winger, this result is elementary. Hillary Clinton is the single shadiest brand-name Democrat in America. Of course Trump is going to top her on this question. To a Democrat, though, staring at these numbers must feel like staring into the abyss. It’s a clean sweep by gender and among white voters across the educational divide.
The left has argued endlessly that, whatever Hillary’s faults, Trump is a uniquely opaque candidate. He won’t release his tax returns; his net worth, which is central to his alpha-male bravado, is unclear and hotly debated; his business is a sprawling tangle of interests, some of them foreign and dubious; no one can pin down exactly how much he’s given to charity; and all that’s known about his health, a day after Hillary released some of her medical records, is a one-page statement of partial results from his latest physical. Politically, while he has a few core issues that he hammers reliably, no one has any idea what he’ll do on foreign policy or even certain sectors of domestic policy. The Democratic message is that Hillary is the ultimate known quantity after 25 years in Washington whereas Trump is the consummate black box, a risky bet of historic proportions. And the thing is, they’ve had some success with that message — even according to this same poll. When people are asked if Trump should release his tax returns, they split 75/20. (Among the 75 percent: Paul Ryan.) When then asked if they buy Trump’s excuse that he can’t release the returns because he’s being audited, they split 59/32 in not believing him. He earns a 40/57 result on the question of whether he’s honest or not. Voters have plenty of doubts about Trump’s transparency.
But they have deeper doubts about Hillary’s. Her split on honesty is 32/65, including an amazing 21/77 result among the 18-29-year-old group that’s causing her so much trouble right now. When asked whether each candidate is “honest enough to be president,” Trump squeaks through with a 50/48 result but Hillary sinks to 43/55. And it’s not for any one reason either — it’s for a lot of reasons. Quinnipiac asked voters what element, specifically, of Clinton’s shadiness is bothering them the most. Behold:
She doesn’t crack 30 percent on any single issue but she cracks 20 on three of them, which suggests the sheer cumulative weight of various Clinton deceptions is driving her overall numbers. Quinnipiac didn’t ask about pay for play at the Clinton Foundation or the curiously delayed revelation about her pneumonia either. Who knows where those might register in this parade of horribles.
To the left, the fact that Clinton is trailing Trump badly on the transparency question is proof that the media’s fallen down on the job in vetting Trump. If you’re invested in believing that every Hillary scandal is much ado about nothing, that’s a fine excuse to offer yourself. There may be something to the idea, though, that Trump oddly benefits from the fact that there’s simply too much going on with him day to day for the media to spend much time drilling down on any single thing for too long. Leon Wolf flagged that as an advantage for Trump last summer, comparing Trump’s press conferences to a fighter jet firing off “chaff.” There are so many targets in his past for scrutiny and so many new ones being generated each day in his tweets, his praise for Putin, and so forth, that most of the coverage critical of him involves little more than flagging the issue for the audience, sifting through it for a few minutes, and then moving on. And since the media bias against Trump is clear in the first place, it’s easy for viewers to dismiss drive-by criticism which doesn’t delve much into detail as ticky-tack complaints that are probably much ado about nothing. Journalists get mad when he says he wants to waterboard terrorists and they get mad when he won’t release his tax returns. If you agree with him on the former, why wouldn’t you assume they’re making a big deal out of what must be a minor thing with the latter too?
In fact, one theory from Twitter pals about why Trump’s transparency numbers are stronger here than Clinton’s is that he’s seen as being much more transparent in his rhetoric than she is, i.e. he “speaks his mind” and is “politically incorrect.” It may be that that perception is influencing the overall “transparency” results, with people treating “transparent” as a synonym for “candid.” A man who has nothing to hide in his opinions, the theory goes, will be seen as having little to hide in his personal and professional dealings. Okay, but here’s what you get when people are asked whether Trump says the things he says because he really believes them — candor! — or because he just likes media attention and knows that controversy sells:
That’s a lot of people who suspect Trump’s “political incorrectness” is BS, and not just Democratic people either. A majority of men think so and whites who didn’t graduate from college are almost evenly split. That’s his base. Even his base thinks he’s doing shtick to some extent, which fits right in with Clinton’s message that the real Trump is a black box. And yet, Crooked Hillary trails on transparency anyway. Go figure.
By the way, although these numbers are ominous for her, she still leads Trump in this Quinnipiac survey by two points in the four-way race and by five head-to-head. She leads him on most individual issues and leads *big*, as usual, when people are asked whether each candidate is qualified to be president. For Hillary that number is 62/38 whereas for Trump it’s 38/62 — which means, since he pulled 43 percent when people are asked whom they support for president, that some small but meaningful share of Trump’s voters don’t believe he’s qualified for the job. All of which is to say, Hillary’s transparency/honesty problem doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t win the election. But if she doesn’t, it’ll almost surely be the single biggest reason why.