The Doubts About Her Honesty That Doomed Hillary Clinton

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

Pollsters asked the first question about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions in 1992.

That year, 19 percent told Time/Yankelovich/CNN interviewers that she had what it takes to be President, while 40 percent said she did not.

When Time repeated the question in 1998, 41 percent said she did.

In a Gallup question from around that time, 87 percent said they were willing to vote for a qualified woman for president.

Karlyn-Hillary-blog Time/Yankelovich/CNN

As we documented in an exhaustive AEI Public Opinion Study of opinions on Hillary, people greeted the new First Lady with optimism in 1993, saying that she would be a positive role model. Americans thought she was highly intelligent, and they described her as a hard worker.

In the polls, these qualities have endured. Initial reactions were mixed when she took on a nontraditional role for a First Lady by heading up the President’s health care task force, but over time, doubts grew about her stewardship.

Concerns about her honesty and ethical standards came to the fore during the Whitewater (a failed Arkansas real estate venture that morphed into other controversies about the Clintons’ past) inquiries.

In 1994, half said she was more ethical than most politicians while 21 percent said less.

As Whitewater dragged on, people had more doubts, and in 1996 they were divided on this question. 39 percent said she was more ethical, 37 percent less.

When ABC News and the Washington Post asked whether she did anything illegal, 22 percent answered in the affirmative in early 1994, and by 1997, that number had grown to 54 percent.

(Gallup’s question was less blunt, and sentiment about whether she had done anything illegal grew to 26 percent, but around two in ten said she had done something unethical but not illegal.)

The seeds of doubt about her honesty were planted early.

Far more people approved of the way she handled the controversy involving Monica Lewinsky than felt that way about the president, the Republicans in Congress, or the news media. The scandal-obsessed media fared worst.

She did well in the polls when she was a Senator, and New Yorkers regarded her highly. Before her 2008 run, people clearly felt she had the experience to run, although opinions about her were more divided.

GettyImages-621952088 Hillary Clinton, accompanied by her husband former President Bill Clinton, concedes the presidential election at the New Yorker Hotel on November 9, 2016 in New York City. Justin Sullivan/Getty

After Obama appointed her to be Secretary of State, 72 percent in a December 2008 Fox News poll of registered voters said she would make a good one.

Today, as throughout most of the 2016 campaign, she, like President Trump, is viewed negatively. In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 30 percent view her positively and 53 percent negatively. Those numbers for Trump are 36 and 52 percent, respectively. Early impressions in polls often stick.