Opinion writer

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The new Quinnipiac poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump among likely voters nationally by 47-40 in the four-way race, and by 50-44 in the head-to-head match-up. But never mind that. We already know that Clinton is ahead nationally by anywhere from six points to eight points.

Here’s a much more important finding. The good folks at Quinnipiac hit on the brilliant idea of asking respondents whether they think Clinton and Trump have a basic sense of decency. You’ll be shocked by what they found:


A large majority of Americans — 59 percent — say Trump has no sense of decency. And even larger percentages of the groups he needs to improve among also think Trump is a big jerk: 66 percent of women, including 64 percent of white women; 61 percent of college educated whites; 76 percent of young voters; and 66 percent of nonwhites.

By contrast, on this score, Clinton does reasonably well among the broader public (55 percent say she has a sense of decency), and even among groups that historically tilt Republican: 52 percent of college educated whites think she has a sense of decency, as do 55 percent of white women, and 50 percent of whites overall.

It’s hard to say how much this all means. Surely there are a lot of people out there who think Trump lacks any sense of decency but will vote for him anyway, because they think Clinton is worse. (While 36 percent say Trump has a sense of decency, slightly more, 40 percent, support him in the four-way.)

The newest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Democratic presidential Hillary Clinton with a 4-percentage-point lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump among likely voters. Respondents were also asked about Donald Trump's lewd comments about women, and how locked-in their votes are. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

But surely such impressions matter at least to some degree. Indeed, note that in the new Quinnipiac poll, majorities believe that Trump did commit unwanted sexual advances, and majorities say that this is either a big deal or a deal breaker. Majorities say the same about the sex tape, in which Trump lewdly boasted of such behavior. Surely all of this feeds this broader sense that Trump lacks a basic sense of decency. Meanwhile, a striking 58 percent say Trump is not “fit to be president,” which might be partly the result of these widespread impressions that he is a raging assh*le.

Tonight is Trump’s last chance to turn all of this around. He has invited Obama’s Kenyan half brother — and the Benghazi mom who told the GOP convention she holds Clinton responsible for her son’s death — to the debate tonight, which suggests he is thinking very hard about how to accomplish this.

That was, of course, a joke. In reality, what Trump’s guest list really shows is that he fully devoted to a strategy of making the race’s final days as ugly as possible, in service of his last ditch hope of dragging Clinton down into the pig slop with him, hopefully sullying her up in the eyes of swing voters while driving the base into a frenzy. If you don’t believe me, note that Trump’s own advisers have basically confirmed that this is how they see the race’s final stretch.

All that said, these awful decency numbers for Trump actually dovetail with how Democrats have viewed this race for months. As I’ve reported, research persuaded Dems very early on that the most potent weapon against Trump was his own words. That’s why months of Dem ads featured footage of Trump mocking a disabled reporter; insulting women and Mexican immigrants; cursing and lurching around like a madman; and glorifying violence and thuggery before bloodthirsty rally crowds.

Michelle Obama’s speech the other day bashing Trump at great length crystallized all of this in a seminal way. Indeed, her speech used formulations of the word “decent” no less than five times:

“Our nation’s leaders should meet basic standards of human decency….This isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency….the men in my life do not talk about women like this…to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere….A six-year-old knows that this is not how adults behave. This is not how decent human beings behave….on November the 8th, we as women, we as Americans, we as decent human beings can come together and declare that enough is enough, and we do not tolerate this kind of behavior in this country.”

One of the greatest failings of this cycle’s punditry has been the obsession with the idea that the two candidates are historically disliked. That is true, and there’s no question that Clinton has many weaknesses as a candidate. But the focus on “likability” has obscured what may prove a much more important factor when it comes to the two candidates on character and temperament: the deep imbalance in public perceptions of their basic fitness for the job. These perceptions are likely bound up in many voters’ minds with perceptions of the candidates’ sense of decency — or lack of one.