Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reads "Very Hungry Caterpillar" to a pre-k class talks at YMCA in Rochester, New Hampshire on Monday, June 15, 2015.
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images
By Sam Frizell
June 17, 2015

Polls show Hillary Clinton has two problems with voters: They doubt that she is trustworthy and they’re divided over whether she cares about people like them.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday found that a majority of voters in the key swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio did not find her honest and trustworthy, while they were more evenly divided on whether she cares about their needs and problems. Her Republican opponents generally came off better on both measures.

But Democrats and Clinton supporters believe that empathy will matter a lot more in the long run, arguing that her low scores on honesty are a reflection of her new status as a partisan political figure.

“People are looking first and foremost for someone who will look out for them, fight for them, and get things done for them,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

Another Democratic pollster, Celinda Lake, agreed. “The question for voters, are you in touch with my life and do you have a plan,” she said. “At the end of the day, the trust dimension that matters to people is they will to to look after them.”

The Clinton campaign is building its strategy around that logic. It began with Clinton’s April announcement video, which featured a diverse rainbow of Americans. On the campaign trail, Clinton likes to tell voters that the campaign “is not about me, it’s about you,” saying she wants to be “a champion” for “everyday Americans.” “I’m running for everyone who’s been knocked down, but not knocked out,” she said in South Carolina Wednesday. Her policies, including universal pre-kindergarten, automatic voter registration, and her economic vision, also reflect a populist tilt.

When asked recently about Clinton’s trustworthiness, campaign manager Robby Mook said it’s still early in the election cycle.

“We are just now launching the campaign in earnest and the key question in this campaign as it relates to trust is, who can everyday Americans trust to go to bat for them.” He continued: “I am absolutely confident when she lays out her case it will be very clear to people that she will be that champion to stand up for them every single day.”

Republicans, meantime, have attempted to hit Clinton on both trustworthiness and empathy. Hours before Clinton announced her candidacy, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul released a video that argued Clinton “represents the worst of the Washington machine,” while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has argued that she’s “out of touch” with everyday Americans.

“Whether it’s her flip flops on trade, secret email server or foreign donors to her foundation, Hillary Clinton is giving Americans plenty of reasons not to vote for her,” said Michael Short, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

It may be too soon to tell whether the poll numbers matter. Clinton’s Republican competitors aren’t as well known as the former Secretary of State, New York senator and First Lady. Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, who worked for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, said that ultimately it will come down to how Clinton compares to her general election opponent.

“You can still win an election and be underwater on trustworthiness if the other candidate is even worse than you,” he said.

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