Gallup is in the happy position of talking to a lot of Americans all the time, enabling it to get a good sense of the ebbs and flows of cultural and political attitudes. It also tracks what people are hearing about the presidential campaign from out in the world, dutifully noting whichever Donald Trump misstep or accomplishment is dominating any seven-day period. And week after week, writing down the word “email” when Americans are asked what they’re hearing about Hillary Clinton.
Since July 11, that’s the word that’s been the most common response when Gallup asks what people have “read, seen or heard about Hillary Clinton” over the preceding few days. In eight of the 10 weeks since the middle of July — a period that covers both conventions — email was the top response, with convention edging it out during the week of the Democratic convention and health taking the top honor in the most recent week, following Clinton’s fainting spell at the 9/11 Memorial.
Email, email, email. Plus other words associated with Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time at the State Department: FBI, interview and release (referring to the release of the FBI’s interview with Clinton. Then, more generically, lie and scandal — words tied to nothing in particular.
There are probably a few things at play here. The first is that Clinton’s campaign schedule was fairly light after the conventions, focused on fundraising for the final push. That contributed to most of the news being generated about and not by the campaign, meaning that updates on the never-ending email saga may actually have been all people heard.
Second, we’ve seen much more negative reactions about Clinton fairly consistently in similar polling. Because Republicans often use similar words to describe her — liar, dishonest, etc. — those words can quickly rise to the surface in surveys like this.
Third, there aren’t really many points of focus that Clinton’s critics seize upon. The email server, certainly, and her relationship with the Clinton Foundation, which makes a few appearances. But generally, Clinton isn’t prone to the sorts of wild shifts in media attention that Trump laments and enjoys at varying moments.
So the chart of what people remember about Trump looks much different.
Each week, something new. Sometimes it’s bad — family and Muslim after the Democratic convention as he battled the Khans — and often it’s positive. His trip to Mexico and discussion of immigration made a splash, as did his suggestion that President Obama founded the Islamic State, a comment that came the same week as his comments about Hillary Clinton and “Second Amendment people.” (The word bear in the most recent week also presumably deals with the right to bear arms, and Trump’s latest comments about Clinton in that regard.)
What people hear about Trump is all over the place, with his various controversial comments quickly rising and falling. Underneath, fairly positive themes: speech and president.
Notice that foundation doesn’t appear on Trump’s list. Despite the spate of news stories (largely broken by our David Fahrenthold), the issue hasn’t caught the public’s attention. There’s so much going on with Trump that things rarely stay on the surface.
Trump also spent most of August getting more of the public’s attention than Clinton. Clinton’s lead in the polls versus Trump peaked in early August; afterwards, Trump was consistently getting more attention and consistently gaining ground. This is correlation, not causation, but it’s worth considering.
There’s been a lot of debate about the extent to which Trump has been controlling the media’s attention over the course of this race. This survey data doesn’t definitively resolve that debate one way or the other. But it suggests that Clinton’s quiet month of campaigning didn’t do much to upend what people were hearing about her candidacy. If the polling trend continues, she’s in trouble. Whether or not she needs the “email” trend to stop in order to keep her poll numbers from sliding further is an unanswered question.