Democrats are seeing warning signs after a new poll showed Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonGOP chairman calls for tighter sanctions on Russia Dem senator accuses Trump of 'dangerous tilt towards authoritarianism' Armstrong Williams op-ed: Gorsuch, a judge for all seasons and ages MORE losing three swing states and deep in negative territory on questions of character.
One Democratic strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity described the poll results as “the canary in the coal mine.”
When the pollsters tested Clinton against leading Republican contenders Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, she lost every state to every opponent.
Among the most alarming findings, from a Democratic perspective, was the indication that Clinton, widely considered the party’s front-runner, would lose Colorado by 9 points to Walker and would lose by at least 6 points to any of the three candidates in Iowa.
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic consultant who has worked with Clinton in the past but is not involved with her current campaign, described the findings as “absolutely dangerous” for the party.
“The electorate is very volatile. They are not happy about anybody [in politics], and this is just another indication of that.”
Some Democrats — and presumably the Clinton camp itself, which declined through a spokesman to comment for this story — will take solace from the fact that the 2016 election is more than 15 months away. They argue that this makes hypothetical match-ups largely meaningless.
“At this time in 2007, John McCain was ahead of everyone,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked in former President Clinton’s White House and on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, said of the GOP nominee that cycle.
Some independent experts agree — at least to some extent.
“It’s never good to be trailing in a poll or to have numbers that don’t show you in a particularly good light, but at the same time it’s July 2015,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The general election is a political century away.”
But it is not just the head-to-head match-ups where Clinton struggles. Other findings are also poor for her, including on the question of whether voters trust her. Those results seem ominous given that the former first lady has been in the public eye for around a quarter-century, making impressions of her more difficult to change. She has also struggled on questions of honesty before.
The Quinnipiac poll showed Coloradans asserting by an almost 2-1 margin that Clinton was not honest or trustworthy: 62 percent said she was not, whereas only 34 percent she was. The findings were not much better in either Iowa or Virginia. Respondents distrusted Clinton 59 percent to 33 percent in the former, and 55 percent to 39 percent in latter.
Two national polls released early last month showed the depths of Clinton’s vulnerability on this issue. A CNN/ORC poll indicated that 57 percent of adults said she was not honest or trustworthy, compared to 42 percent who asserted that she was. A Washington Post/ABC News poll put the disparity at 52 percent to 41 percent.
In her first major TV interview of the campaign, CNN’s Brianna Keilar pressed Clinton on the earlier polls. The candidate denied there was a problem. “People should, and do, trust me,” she insisted.
But some Democrats, as well as independent observers, wonder if those kinds of answers really pass muster.
“It’s not a one-off, it is something that they should be worried about,” said Sheinkopf, referring to the most recent polling results.
Skelley of UVA agrees. “There is a question here about her trustworthiness. Her numbers on that front are not good, to put it flatly,”
But Skelley also noted that a bad result on the honesty question “is not necessarily going to kill someone’s candidacy.”
He cited an example that strikes close to home for Clinton: In 1996, her husband was reelected to the White House despite exit polls showing that 54 percent of voters did not rate him as honest.
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons also insisted that the honesty question was “more nuanced” than it might seem. He argued that voters’ responses to such a question are deeply intertwined with their ideologies and policy preferences.
“Donald Trump appears to be honest, right?” he said with a laugh. “But he might not be exactly what you’re looking for in the White House. The question of trust is ... a question of whether I trust you to make my life better, in the ways that I want.”
Not every poll result was negative for Clinton. Despite the skepticism expressed by voters on many questions, she did better than any candidate except for Jeb Bush on the question of whether she exhibited strong leadership qualities.
Still, Simmons was hardly reassured by Wednesday’s polling results. He said he found “particularly concerning” the number of voters who said Clinton did not understand the challenges they faced.
Asked whether Clinton “cares about the needs and problems of people like you or not,” 57 percent of respondents in Colorado replied that she did not. So did 55 percent of Iowan respondents and 50 percent of Virginians surveyed. Bush, who performed worse than either Rubio or Walker on this question, did a little better than Clinton in net terms.
“The reason that might be the case,” Simmons suggested, “is because she hasn’t been very forceful yet with a unified message about why she wants to be president. She has been very good on policy speeches to address specific issues but she hasn’t wrapped it all up yet. It’s like the hook of a song that voters need to hear.”
There was one more reason for alarm for Clinton loyalists: Her overall favorability ratings in each state were dismal — and barely better than Trump’s,but he polled the worst of any candidate tested.
In both Colorado and Iowa, for instance, Clinton and Trump’s favorability ratings were broadly similar. The Hawkeye State was closest of all, with voters holding an unfavorable view of Clinton 56 percent to 33 percent, and of Trump by 57 percent to 32 percent.
Put it all together, and it’s easy enough to see why Democrats are worried.
The strategist who wanted to remain anonymous said that deep panic would not set in until more polls show similar results. But, the person added, “You have to address this issue, and you’re better doing so 16 months out than 15 months in.”