No kidding. For quite a while, the media either downplayed or flat-out ignored Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal, or cast it in terms of the danger of Republican overreach. The New York Times actually stands out as an exception to this, as they have broken much of the news about this scandal — so much so that Media Matters’ chief and Hillary apologist David Brock recently accused them of being “a megaphone for conservative propaganda.”
Still, the prevailing conventional wisdom over the last seven months since the public revelation of the unsecured and unauthorized secret server is that this is just another example of partisan bickering, and that it won’t stick to Hillary. Her high favorability was bound to take a hit anyway, the narrative goes, and this is just an organic part of jumping back into electoral politics. Nate Cohn, the New York Times’ data guru, says that the conventional wisdom and the return to campaigning doesn’t explain this collapse in favorability … but the scandal at least correlates to it:
For the first time in her two decades in national politics, more Americans see Mrs. Clinton unfavorably than favorably. Her net-favorability rating — now a dismal minus-ten or perhaps worse — is at least 15 points worse than it was at this time in 2008.
She hasn’t lost ground only among Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, but also among Democratic voters. I don’t have a comprehensive data set of Mrs. Clinton’s old favorability ratings among Democrats, but a quick survey of polls from August and September 2007 showed Mrs. Clinton with between an 80 and 88 percent favorability rating among Democrats. Today, they range from 65 to 77 percent. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given how far her national ratings have slipped.
It is hard to argue that these losses were inevitable, given that they now place her beneath where she was in the last 2008 primary — a contest she entered with far less support from voters and party elites than she held at the beginning of this year. They raise the possibility that political scientists and data journalists — including this one — have underestimated the significance of the email affair, which is the simplest — if unproven — explanation for those losses. …
Most data journalists and political scientists had argued that the email revelations were just another muddled, politicized dispute that would quickly split the electorate along partisan lines. But recent surveys — like an ABC/Washington Post survey from this week — show that a significant minority of Democrats (29 percent to 33 percent, depending on the question) disapprove of her handling of questions about the email issue, think she broke government regulations or think she tried to cover up the facts.
Here’s Cohn’s chart of Hillary’s unfavorables, which have reached a nadir in her public career — so far:
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) September 15, 2015
There are actually two forces in play here. The first is that Hillary Clinton is just not a good campaigner. Philip Bump pointed this out in March when the media first began to poo-poo the idea that a scandal over an e-mail server would stick. He looked at Gallup’s favorability ratings for Hillary and came up with this chart that showed an unmistakable pattern. The more people see of Hillary Clinton, the more likely the public is to view her unfavorably — which happens in almost every electoral cycle in which she has participated:
This compounds the problem with the e-mail server scandal. It’s obvious that the scandal has given a body blow to Hillary, whether one can mathematically show a causative relationship or not. The correlation is too strong, and the depth of this fall is far deeper than in past cycles. Even a very good campaigner would have trouble bouncing back from this, but Hillary is not a good or even passable campaigner. She’s mediocre or outright poor at it.
The media may need to rethink its narrative. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, needs to rethink its entire 2016 strategy.