A large majority of voters believe Hillary Clinton did something either unethical or illegal in her use of a private email system for government business, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
A total of 68 percent believe that what she did was wrong in one way or the other.
The biggest bloc, 40 percent, say she acted unethically, though legally. That includes large numbers of Democrats and independents.
The second biggest, 28 percent, believe she did something illegal.
The third, 27 percent, believe she did nothing wrong.
The results suggest that even as Clinton builds her lead for the Democratic presidential nomination over rival Bernie Sanders, a sizable number of voters have lingering questions about her behavior as secretary of state that would follow her through a general election campaign.
The ranks of those saying she acted unethically if legally includes a surprising number of voters of her own party or those not affiliated with any party. Forty percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents say she did something unethical but not illegal.
“It was poor judgment mixing your professional and your private emails,” said Andrew Spevko, 52, a Democrat and a computer engineer from Berkeley, Calif. “That division should have been recognized.”
Clinton has been under fire for months for exclusively using a personal email account routed through a private computer server at her Chappaqua, N.Y., house for all four years she served as secretary of state.
The FBI launched an inquiry this summer into the handling of sensitive information after classified information was found in emails transmitted over Clinton’s server. The investigation has prompted questions about her judgment and motives for actions that potentially led to national security risks.
A plurality of voters from nearly every demographic group, including whites and Latinos, women and men, think she did something unethical but not illegal. The biggest numbers are younger voters, where 50 percent of those ages 18 to 29 say she did something wrong.
“The North Koreans, the Chinese have information now that they got from her emails,” said James Milton, 49, a Republican and a systems analyst from Dallas. “It’s illegal, unethical and quite frankly treasonous. This woman behaved in a manner that makes me think that she’s above the law.”
Clinton has apologized for not using a government account, but said she never sent or received any classified information.
I think she has to be able to have a life. I don’t think every single thing she does in her life needs to be public. For the security of the country, some emails may need to be private.
Democrat Denise Miller, 48, an entrepreneur from Quilcene, Wash.
The question of whether Clinton did anything illegal predictably falls along partisan lines.
More than half of Republicans, 56 percent, think she did something illegal, while only 6 percent of Democrats do. More than one in four independents, 27 percent, think she broke the law.
“Hillary Clinton does very well with Democrats, no question, but independents are not so sure,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion, which conducts the survey.
The numbers indicate that Clinton may not have too much to worry about the impact of her emails in the three-way Democratic primary. Her chief rival, Sanders, has not pressed her on the issues, saying at the first Democratic debate that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
But the issue may become a problem in a general election, where Clinton would be trying to appeal to independents and even Republicans.
The ranks of those thinking Clinton did nothing wrong is driven by a solid number of Democrats, 49 percent, and 22 percent of independents. Only 9 percent of Republicans think she did nothing wrong.
Most likely to think she did nothing wrong: African-Americans, “strong” Democrats and liberals.
Republicans on Capitol Hill determined Clinton used a private email system after they began investigating her role before and after the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
Voters are split 49-45 percent on whether Clinton has sufficiently answered questions about the attack or whether Republicans should continue their investigation.
“The ongoing investigative nonsense is ridiculous and a waste of taxpayer resources,” said Democrat Michael Meredith, 62, a retiree from St. Louis. “We have far more important issues to worry about.”
With both the Benghazi and email controversies, as far as the elecorate is concerned, Hillary Clinton has not been convincing.
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion
That division is reflected along most demographic groups, though African-Americans and those who live in the Northeast are much more likely to think she has answered questions. Only 6 percent of voters are unsure.
A solid majority of Republicans – 80 percent – think lawmakers should continue their inquiry, while only 15 percent of Democrats do.
Republican Tommy Cole, 57, a truck driver and pastor from Kershaw, S.C., said Clinton should be in jail for murder, charged with the deaths of the four Americans. “They should have already charged her,” he said.
Clinton was widely praised for her testimony in front of the House committee investigating the attacks at an 11-hour hearing last month when she took responsibility for failures that led to the deaths and said she made necessary changes to prevent further assaults.
But Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the leader of Republican-led committee, has said he will continue the inquiry, which began in May 2014.
Vera Bergengruen, Lesley Clark, William Douglas, Iana Kozelsky, David Lightman, Alexandria Montag, Grace Toohey and Victoria Whitley contributed.
This survey of 1,465 adults was conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 4 by The Marist Poll, sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults residing in the continental United States were interviewed in English or Spanish by telephone using live interviewers. Land-line telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were then selected by first asking for the youngest male. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey one-year estimates for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. There are 1,080 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.