By many accounts, Hillary Clinton is in trouble.
Recent surveys suggest that Americans simply do not trust her. According to a Fox News poll, 58 percent of Americans believe she knowingly lied about having classified information on her private email server. While Fox News may not be the most objective polling operation, other organizations have reached similar conclusions. Both CNN and Quinnipiac show that the majority of Americans do not find her to be “trustworthy.” Rasmussen finds that the majority of Americans believe Hillary’s use of private email raises serious national security concerns.
Clinton’s efforts to dismiss the charges against her as another right-wing conspiracy have been undermined by the mainstream media. For example, Reuters recently published a critical piece challenging Clinton’s claims that the emails were not classified at the time she received them. The author, Jonathan Allen, annihilates the State Department’s defense of Clinton by citing the department’s own rules.
Many of Hillary Clinton’s emails were automatically classified because they contained confidential information from foreign governments. In some cases, the authors even note that the information should be treated as sensitive.
The FBI investigation into her emails is picking up steam. The inspector general for U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly found several classified emails after searching only a small sample.
Clinton has attempted to make jokes about the investigation. She claims technological ignorance as to how emails would be erased and has dismissed the entire affair as “the same old partisan games.” Yet the public and the media clearly do not believe this.
Republicans see blood in the water and are keen to make the Clinton email scandal and her lack of public trust a major factor in her campaign. Yet, while the public clearly finds her explanations unconvincing, she has not suffered the dramatic dip in the polls that one would expect. In fact, Hillary appears to be the Teflon candidate.
How do we reconcile these two perspectives? Americans believe Hillary lied. They believe her actions jeopardized national security. And yet, they still say they would vote for her.
The reason is that integrity, character and trust don’t matter much in the political realm these days. In fact, issues don’t really matter that much either.
A recent study by two political scientists, Patrick Miller and Pamela Johnston Conover, concludes that partisans treat politics like a sports rivalry. Both strong Democrats and strong Republicans care more about whether their party wins than they do about ideology or issues. While this may not seem all that surprising in our highly polarized political landscape, the findings go even further.
The researchers also found that 38 percent of partisans believed that their parties should use any tactics necessary to win election, including voter suppression, election fraud, lying, personal attacks and even physical violence. In other words, partisans tolerate and even condone corruption in order for their team to win.
This doesn’t mean that partisans are merely willing to tolerate a little corruption in order to advance the greater good. In fact, they place the importance of winning above the importance of real policy issues.
Political rivalries, then, are akin to sports rivalries, and team loyalty overrides all else. In fact, if sports rivalries are any indication of team loyalty, charges of corruption against members may actually promote team spirit. As Penn State fans supported Joe Paterno and Patriots fans cheered on Tom Brady, loyal Democrats will rally behind Hillary Clinton.
This study sheds a revealing light on our dysfunctional political culture. Political scientists have concluded that the electorate is becoming increasingly polarized. Academics and pundits alike have warned that this polarization tends to undermine the democratic process by encouraging partisan gridlock and preventing meaningful compromise on legislative priorities. Yet Miller and Conover’s research shows that polarization and intense partisanship leads to something far more damaging – a tolerance for dishonesty and corruption.
Americans complain about the lack of integrity in politics. The majority say that money has too much influence in the political process and that politicians are corrupt. They place little trust in elected officials, especially in Congress.
Political corruption, however, isn’t merely the result of powerful interests and unregulated money in the political process. It is also electoral in origin. If voters are driven by team loyalties above all else and are willing to tolerate dishonesty and cheating in order to win the game, then the most corrupt candidates will have a competitive advantage.
April Kelly-Woessner is a professor and chairwoman of the political science department at Elizabethtown College. She also is a correspondent for LNP. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.