Hillary Clinton’s National Lead Erodes With Honesty a Key Issue

‘I have tried ... to level with the American people’

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s national lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has eroded and, according to some assessments, vanished as honesty has become a key issue among likely Democratic primary voters considering the presidential candidates.

Sanders maintains a slight lead over Clinton nationally, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday evening, capturing 47 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 44 percent. The 3-point gap falls within the margin of error, indicating that the two are statistically tied. This reflects the results of a Quinnipiac University poll published earlier in the week, which showed that Sanders has made considerable gains among female primary voters across the country.

Earlier Thursday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey had Clinton beating Sanders 53 percent to 42 percent, though her lead has dramatically eroded over time. Last month, an identical poll found Clinton besting Sanders by 25 points. Last June, Clinton captured 75 percent of the Democratic vote to Sanders’ 15 percent.

Trust has emerged as a main problem for Clinton as she continues to bat away criticism for her use of private, unsecured email to conduct government business at the State Department. The NBC/WSJ poll found that Democratic primary voters are most likely to rate honesty and trust as the most important qualities for the party’s nominee.

Separately, the Quinnipiac survey determined that more than a third of likely primary voters do not believe Clinton to be trustworthy, while only 10 percent would say the same of Sanders.

During a televised interview Thursday night, Clinton refused to plainly say that she would not lie to the American people.

"Well, I have to tell you, I have tried in every way I know how, literally from my years as a young lawyer all the way through my time as secretary of state, to level with the American people," Clinton said when prompted by CBS anchor Scott Pelley, who cited former president Jimmy Carter’s 1976 promise that he would not lie to the American public.

"You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?" Pelley asked.

"I’ve always tried to," Clinton replied. "Always, always."

"Some people are going to call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself," Pelley said. "‘Always tried to.’ Jimmy Carter said, ‘I will never lie to you.’"

"No, I’ve always tried to," Clinton responded. "You know, you’re asking me to say have I ever. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m going to do the best I can to level with the American people."

Clinton has received increasingly poor ratings on trust since revelations surrounding her use of private email at the State Department have continued to unfold. Clinton has repeatedly insisted that she never sent nor received information marked classified on her email, and her campaign has dismissed the controversy as the result of a partisan effort to damage Clinton in the presidential race.

The State Department confirmed in January that at least 22 emails on Clinton’s server contain top secret information so sensitive that the correspondences were held from public release. The agency has said that it is looking into whether the messages contained classified information when they originated on Clinton’s email.

The FBI has been investigating Clinton’s email setup, a probe that has been widely reported for months.

Critics have argued that Clinton put national security at risk by using unsecured email to conduct government business, an opinion with which the American people appear to agree. According to the Fox poll, 60 percent of voters believe that Clinton risked national security by mishandling classified emails while serving as secretary of state.