Despite avoiding indictment, could Hillary Clinton’s emails lose her the Presidential election?

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On 6 July Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, confirmed that Hillary Clinton would not face federal charges as a result of the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. This came after the Director of the FBI, James Comey, concluded his report into the investigation by recommending that federal charges would not be appropriate. This federal investigation had been hanging over Clinton’s head for many months and had she faced charges, then this would undoubtedly have derailed her campaign and made it near-impossible for her to win the Presidency. Therefore, the decision not to charge her would have perhaps been expected to smooth the road between Hillary Clinton and the Presidency.

However, despite James Comey’s recommendation that Clinton face no charges, he did deliver a strong rebuke of her behaviour during her time as Secretary of State. During his statement on 5 July, Comey stated:

Although we did not find evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, classified information.

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments or Agencies of the U.S. Government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail.

The use of the phrase ‘extremely careless’ has been seized upon by Republican nominee Donald Trump and his supporters to highlight what they believe makes Hillary Clinton unfit to be President of the United States. Although most on the Democratic side would simply dismiss this as Trump propaganda, it does now seem to be having an effect upon the wider electorate.

In the most recent poll undertaken by The New York Times and CBS News, Clinton has seen the lead she held evaporate. The new poll puts Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck on 40 per cent each, whereas the previous polling from the same organisations gave Clinton a six point lead.

In addition, the polling also suggests that the electorate feel that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy with the same polling indicating that 67 per cent of the electorate believe that she is not honest or trustworthy. This tallies with a recent Pew Research Centre poll which suggested that Trump and Clinton are the most dishonest Presidential candidates in recent history. In that particular poll, nineteen per cent of voters said that they considered Trump to be honest, whilst only thirteen per cent of voters said that they considered Clinton to be honest. It would perhaps be expected that this would severely reduce Clinton’s chances of becoming President. However, research from the American National Election Studies suggests that actually, honesty does not win presidential elections. The data suggests that since the 1988 Presidential election, there has been only one occasion where the candidate deemed to be more honest, actually won. This was in 2000, when George W. Bush defeated incumbent Vice President, Al Gore. Therefore it is perhaps safe to say, that if we go by precedent, this perception of dishonesty should not hurt Hillary Clinton too much.

What will perhaps be more worrying to Clinton is that she seems to be losing her poll lead in the crucial swing states. Polling by Quinnipiac University shows that Clinton has lost her eight point lead over Trump in Florida, with Trump now leading in the State by 42–39. In Ohio, the race is still too close to call with both candidates tied on 41 per cent. In addition, in Pennsylvania, Clinton has lost her one per cent lead in the polls, with Trump now leading by 43–41. Admittedly the polling by Quinnipiac University has not yielded especially good results for Clinton all year. However, the polls this time around were particularly bad for Clinton.

Couple this with the polling from The New York Times and CBS News discussed earlier and it seems that the Clinton campaign is struggling somewhat, with support for Clinton beginning to stagnate. The polling conducted by The New York Times and CBS News had given Clinton comfortable leads throughout the race. Therefore, for her support to drop quite so significantly suggests only one thing.

With this polling having coincided with the release of the report into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, then surely the conclusion must be drawn that the electorate are being influenced by what they perceive as Clinton’s dishonesty.

Of course, it is hard to predict whether the verdict regarding Clinton’s emails will lead to a prolonged slump in the polls, or whether it will simply be a short term knock to Clinton’s popularity. In any case, it is hardly what she needs given her current campaign progress.

Hillary Clinton would have hoped to have stormed into a strong lead by now. When you consider that much of the Trump vote during the primaries was made up of people who do not usually vote, there should have been a large part of the electorate that Clinton could sweep up by pitching herself as the only serious candidate in the race. However, the polling indicates that thus far she has been unable to do this. In addition, Clinton was facing a candidate who had never run in a national election before. With both these factors taken into account, you would expect someone of Hillary Clinton’s experience to be storming into the lead. However, perhaps the fact that she has not done this, shows just how significant the anti-politics mood in the United States, and around the world, could prove to this Presidential race.

Hillary Clinton will hope that the Democratic National Convention in just under two weeks time will afford her a much needed bump in the polls. It is usual for candidates to receive a bump in the polls following the announcement of their Vice Presidential pick during the Convention. Even John McCain received a significant bump in the polls following his comedy VP pick of Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton will hope for the same sort of response.

In addition, Clinton will be hoping that gaining the endorsement of Bernie Sanders helps her gain the traction with young people which she has been lacking thus far in the campaign. Data from the Centre for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) revealed that up to the end of March, Sanders had won more votes from young people (voters aged under-30) than Clinton and Trump combined. Therefore, his endorsement could be key in terms of Clinton being able to gain the support of this large part of the electorate, and therefore could be crucial to the ultimate election result. Clinton will hope that Sanders’ endorsement dissuades young voters from backing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, or simply remaining at home on polling day. Although no third-party candidate has won the presidency, the presence of third parties can often cause problems for the frontrunners. In 2000, it was estimated that if Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had not been on the ballot, then Democrat Al Gore would have won Florida and therefore won the presidency. Therefore, Clinton must be wary of these individuals. However, with young people such a reliable demographic for Sanders during the primary campaign, Clinton will hope that the enthusiasm which this group gained from Sanders’ candidacy will translate into Democratic votes come November.

Whichever way you look at it, Hillary Clinton has not coasted through this election campaign as many predicted that she would. It is clear that she has a lot more to do if she is to persuade the American electorate to back her as their President. Contrary to what I, and most others believed, it also does not seem as though support for Donald Trump is evaporating. He now seems as though he will provide a genuine challenge to Hillary Clinton throughout the remainder of the election campaign. With this, as well as her issues with the email scandal and her popularity with young voters, it is clear that Hillary Clinton has a fight on her hands if she is to become the next President of the United States.

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