Amer­i­cans split on whether Clin­ton cares about their needs


Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton plans to spend the sum­mer build­ing a case that Repub­li­cans are out of touch with the public. But many peo­ple aren’t con­vinced she em­pathizes with them, ei­ther, polls sug­gest, in a po­ten­tial early warn­ing sign for the Demo­cratic front-run­ner in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Clin­ton’s ap­proach to defin­ing the Repub­li­can field echoes one Pres­i­dent Barack Obama used suc­cess­fully in the 2012 cam­paign against Repub­li­can ri­val Mitt Rom­ney, a rich man who strug­gled to make the com­mon touch at times with his poli­cies and per­sona.

Yet av­er­age Amer­i­cans ap­pear to be split on whether Clin­ton can re­late to them, in the face of scru­tiny about her fam­ily fi­nances and the Repub­li­can ar­gu­ment that she and hus­band Bill, the for­mer pres­i­dent, play by dif­fer­ent rules and have amassed wealth in ways that are in­con­ceiv­able for most peo­ple.

About 47 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said Clin­ton cares about peo­ple like them in a CNN/ORC poll re­leased Tues­day. That’s down from 53 per­cent in the same poll last sum­mer. An ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll re­leased the same day also found a slight decline in the past year on a sim­i­lar ques­tion, with 49 per­cent say­ing Clin­ton “un­der­stands the prob­lems of peo­ple like you” and 46 per­cent say­ing she doesn’t.

The dip in Clin­ton’s rat­ings on at­tributes like em­pa­thy co­in­cides with a decline in her over­all fa­vor­a­bil­ity from the time she was Obama’s sec­re­tary of state. Her cur­rent lev­els mir­ror how the public viewed her dur­ing her failed 2008 White House cam­paign.

Em­pa­thy was a fo­cus of Obama’s re-elec­tion bid against Rom­ney. The Demo­cratic in­cum­bent re­lent­lessly ar­gued that Rom­ney’s poli­cies and per­sonal wealth left him out of touch with most Amer­i­cans. By Elec­tion Day, 81 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who said they voted based on whether a can­di­date cared for peo­ple like them backed Obama, ac­cord­ing to exit polls.

Clin­ton’s Cam­paign

Clin­ton cam­paign of­fi­cials say they care less about how Clin­ton is viewed in iso­la­tion on the ques­tion of em­pa­thy and more about how she is com­pared with spe­cific Repub­li­can chal­lengers. While no ma­jor polls have done such a headto-head com­par­i­son, a Quin­nip­iac sur­vey last week found large num­bers of Amer­i­cans un­de­cided on whether many Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls — among them Marco Ru­bio and Scott Walker — care about their needs.

Clin­ton will use a June 13 rally to ar­gue that the Repub­li­can field as a whole is out of touch on gay rights, im­mi­gra­tion, cli­mate change and more. She has also been high­light­ing her dif­fer­ences with Repub­li­cans on eco­nomic is­sues, fi­nan­cial re­form and bud­get pri­or­i­ties.

While the Repub­li­can race is wide-open, with more than a dozen can­di­dates ex­pected to vie for the nom­i­na­tion, the Clin­ton cam­paign plans to cast the field as monolithic on pol­icy. Repub­li­cans, how­ever, see an op­por­tu­nity to turn the ques­tion of em­pa­thy against Clin­ton.

Since the start of the year, Clin­ton has faced ques­tions about her fam­ily foun­da­tion’s fundrais­ing prac­tices and ac­cep­tance of money from for­eign gov­ern­ments, as well as her de­ci­sion to use a pri­vate email server at the State Depart­ment and de­stroy per­sonal emails dur­ing her ten­ure in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Clin­ton cam­paign of­fi­cials ar­gue that the in­di­vid­ual is­sues have not af­fected the way the public views Clin­ton but the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of the scru­tiny has.

Her early cam­paign strat­egy sug­gests Clin­ton and her ad­vis­ers are aware of the need to present her­self as more re­lat­able to Amer­i­cans. While her failed 2008 White House bid em­pha­sized her tough­ness and ex­pe­ri­ence, the first months of her sec­ond cam­paign have high­lighted her fam­ily back­ground and her early work on women’s and fam­ily is­sues.

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