Hillary Clinton up? Down? Depends on when you ask

One poll has Clinton rising, another falling. Can both be right? Yes. Timing matters

Two of the country's best-regarded political surveys just came out with opposite headlines, one declaring that Hillary Rodham Clinton's favorability had declined lately, the other declaring an upswing.

Can they both be right?

Yes, and there's no trickery involved, just timing.

It was the NBC/Wall St. Journal survey, released Monday, that reported a significant rise in the share of Americans who negatively view the former secretary of State, from 36% in March to 42% currently. The share with a positive view remained about the same in that survey, 44% in March, 42% in the latest poll.

A CBS/New York Times poll released this evening finds the opposite: an increase in the share of Americans viewing Clinton favorably, from 26% in March to 35% currently. In that survey, it was the share viewing her negatively that remained about the same, 37% in the last survey, 36% in the current one.

The two surveys agree on most of the other issues on which they polled: Both find Clinton extremely popular among her fellow Democrats; both show the public at large giving her good marks on qualities of leadership and experience, but less so on honesty and trustworthiness. And both show the Republican presidential race to be fluid.

But they disagree notably on the trend in Clinton's image. The clue to the difference involves their dates.

Both new polls were taken at about the same time. The NBC/Wall Street Journal survey was conducted April 26-30, while the CBS/New York Times poll was in the field a few days later, April 30 through May 3.

But the previous surveys, which the polls used to determine the trend in Clinton's image, were taken at importantly different times.

The initial CBS/New York Times survey was conducted March 21-24, after several weeks during which Clinton was beset with questions over her use of a private email server and about donations to the Clinton Foundation. It appears to have caught a low point in the public's view of Clinton, one from which she may now be recovering, producing an upward trend. 

By contrast, the previous NBC/Wall Street Journal survey was taken March 1-5, just as news coverage of the Clinton email controversy was starting. It caught a snapshot from before the damage took place, making her current standing worse in comparison.

One other figure has dropped in both polls: the percentage of Americans who say they have a neutral view of Clinton or don't know enough about her to have an opinion. As she becomes an active presidential candidate, views of her are rapidly polarizing.

For more on politics and policy, follow @DavidLauter on Twitter. 

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