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Why Hillary Clinton is upside down

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last Thursday, senior officials on Hillary Clinton's campaign insisted she hadn't been distracted or damaged by reports about the Clinton Foundation's operations or revelations that she kept her State Department email on a private server and then destroyed some of the records.

Maybe she ought to be more distracted, because new polling out Tuesday suggests she has, in fact, been damaged by those stories.

The big data points come from an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

More than half of independents and more than one-third of Democrats disapprove of Clinton's handling of email.

ABC News/Washington Post

More than half of independents and more than a quarter of Democrats disapprove of her handling of Clinton Foundation fundraising questions.

ABC News/Washington Post

Clinton advisers say she's laser-focused on winning a Democratic primary right now and Democratic voters don't care much about these issues. But clearly they're not a monolith. More than a third of them don't like her obfuscation on emails that were supposed to belong to the public, and more than a quarter don't appreciate the way she's dealt with questions about the way her family's foundation raises money.

Perhaps even more troubling than the disapproval numbers from Democrats are the approvals. Only 50 percent endorse the way she's handled the emails, and just 56 percent approve of the Clinton Foundation's fundraising practices. That's hardly the kind of territory a candidate wants to be in with her own party.

A clear majority of independents, who matter in a general election, are against her on both issues.

It appears to be having an effect on Clinton's overall standing with American voters. Her favorable rating stands at 45 percent in the survey, which is a seven-year low for Clinton in the ABC-Washington Post poll, and her unfavorable level is 49 percent. Her favorability was at 46 percent in a CNN/ORC survey released Tuesday — her lowest level in that poll since 2003 — and her unfavorable rating was 50 percent.

What should be most worrisome for the Clinton camp and for Democrats in general is that while her lead in the primary field is still prohibitive, her advantage over several Republican contenders has disappeared.

CNN/ORC poll of 1,025 adults. Margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

CNN/ORC International

CNN/ORC poll of 1,025 adults. Margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

CNN/ORC International

When they spoke last week, Clinton's advisers stipulated that they could not be named or quoted directly. Still, the polls suggest there's a significant distance between the campaign's public spin and the reality of how Americans, including a significant chunk of Democrats, feel about Clinton's standoffish approach to legitimate questions about the Clinton Foundation's symbiotic relationship with donors and about the way she handled and dismantled her email when she was a public servant.

Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi dodged when asked about the foundation's finances on MSNBC, saying Bill and Hillary Clinton would have to answer those questions. Ditto for Dan Pfeiffer, the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who called inquiries about her email and the foundation "legitimate questions" in a CNN interview. While Pelosi praised the work of the foundation and Pfeiffer said he didn't think the email issue would ultimately be a big problem for her campaign, their postures were clearly different than those of senior campaign officials.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said Democrats aren't worried about defending the foundation at the moment.

It's "not a big issue yet," he said. "I think we all expect the usual anti-Clinton barrage, and this is no different. In some ways, her longtime critics have gone so overboard that particular criticisms are not differentiated."

What isn't clear from the polling — and what matters more than anything else — is how voters in the handful of 2016 swing states feel. Still, if Clinton's overall polling continues to slide, her ability to ignore the email and foundation issues will evaporate as quickly as her leads over Republican rivals have.

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