After the first votes were tallied in Iowa's caucuses, a stunning split in the Democratic party became apparent. Among the quarter of Iowans who, in entrance polls, said that the trustworthiness of their candidate was the most important issue to them, Bernie Sanders won by an 8-to-1 margin. That bit of data, combined with the unexpectedly close results, fit neatly into the "Clinton has trust problems" narrative that we've been hearing about for so long. A grim sign, surely.
Of course, on the other three issues about which voters were asked their opinions, there were rifts nearly as large. Clinton was much more heavily favored by those who were looking for someone with the "right experience," which was about 3 in 10 voters.
But still! Surely it had to be bad news that so many voters were worried about how trustworthy Clinton is, right?
South Carolina suggests not.
Preliminary exit poll data reported by CNN suggests that half of voters in that state identified both Clinton and Sanders as honest and trustworthy. About a quarter said only Clinton was; about 1 in 5 said only Sanders was. Among those who said that honesty was the most important factor in their decision? Clinton and Sanders tied.
This was a state that went heavily for Clinton, of course, which is important to consider. Perhaps that's weighting the responses? Well, yeah. Precisely. In a state with more people who back Clinton, fewer think she's not trustworthy. It makes sense.
The direction of causality on this isn't clear, admittedly: Do people think Clinton isn't honest because they don't support her anyway, or do they not support her because she's not honest? The former is rationalization; the latter is that big problem we mentioned earlier.
This may shed some light: A quarter of the small number of South Carolina voters who said Clinton was not honest and trustworthy voted for her anyway -- suggesting that a lot of people aren't basing their voting decisions on that factor.
In fact, there's little evidence that the opposite is true -- that people are driven to support Bernie Sanders because they think he's more honest. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from earlier this month, Democrats were asked what they were concerned about in regards to Clinton. A fifth said her ties to Wall Street. Seven percent said the email server. Two-thirds? Nothing at all.
Voting decisions are complicated ones, blending a lot of factors and opinions and impressions and considerations. Hotly contested races are also ones in which voters are more likely to think particularly negatively about their opponents. So give people four things to pick from as the reason for their vote and you're excluding hundreds of other possibilities -- not that you have too much of a choice but to narrow it down.
South Carolina suggests that the "honesty" problem isn't much of a problem at all. At least, perhaps, until a possible general election.