Americans Are Divided Over How Serious A Problem Clinton's Emails Pose

03/09/2015 04:54 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015

The news that Hillary Clinton used a personal email address to conduct business as Secretary of State touched off a round of speculation last week on whether the controversy could hurt her chances in 2016.

"Do you think maybe wrong-email-address-ghazi would be a big boost to her Democratic primary rival, TBD?" Jon Stewart quipped on last Wednesday's Daily Show. "Or maybe perhaps this will affect Hillary Clinton's standing with Republicans in the general election who pretty much already believe her and her husband to be treasonous, murdering griftasauruses."

That actually sums things up pretty well so far, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds: Democrats largely don't think the emails are a big deal, while Republicans generally do.

Overall, 20 percent of Americans say they are following the controversy very closely, and 53 percent at least somewhat closely. Twenty-seven percent call Clinton's use of personal email a very serious problem, with 47 percent saying it's at least somewhat serious, and 42 percent that it's not very or not at all serious.

Not everyone, though, puts equal weight on the story. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans say the issue is at least somewhat serious, and 52 percent who've paid some attention to the story say the media isn't making as big a deal of the story as it should.

Most Republicans, though, don't like Clinton all that much to begin with. And among Democrats, there's little sign so far that the controversy will seriously harm Clinton's standing. Just 17 percent call it a very serious problem, and even the majority of that group believes it's likely she'll win her party's nomination if she runs. Overall, nearly three-quarters of Democrats think she's the probable nominee.

Americans who don't identify with or lean to either party -- in other words, potential swing voters -- are somewhere in the middle. While 44 percent say they're following the story somewhat or very closely, 28 percent say they're not following it all, a higher percentage of inattention than among even Democrats. Forty-three percent say it's at least a somewhat serious problem, with 46 percent saying it was not very serious or not serious at all, and the rest unsure. They are as likely to say the media is overhyping the email story as to say that it should be a bigger deal.

Although 65 percent of Americans still expect her to get the Democratic nomination, the divided reactions to Clinton's emails confirm that any bipartisan appeal she had during her tenure as Secretary of State is largely gone. Her favorability rating, which neared 70 percent in 2011, has since dropped below 50 percent, with opinions divided along party lines.

But as political scientists have pointed out, the history of presidential elections suggests it's likely most potential swing voters will have moved on from the issue of Clinton's emails by the time November 2016 rolls around.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people's reactions to the story line up not only with the party they belong to, but also how closely they're following the 2016 presidential campaign. About a fifth of Americans say they're watching the election very closely -- a majority of whom belong to one party or the other, and are less likely to be persuadable in the election. That group of engaged voters is certainly paying attention to the Clinton story, with a majority saying both that they're following the email controversy very closely, and that's it's a very serious issue.

By contrast, among the remaining three-quarters of Americans who aren't following the election that closely, just 7 percent are paying close attention to the Clinton email story, and just 19 percent consider it very serious.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 4-6 among U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the poll's methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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