Probably not her target audience.

Photographer: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Catch of the Day: Clinton's Sincerity Gap

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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A Catch to Vox’s Matt Yglesias, who rebuts the claim that Hillary Clinton “must convince voters that she is the right messenger for the cause of inequality, not simply seizing on it out of political expedience.” Yglesias responds:

Try to imagine a voter who is aware that Hillary Clinton has made inequality a key campaign theme, who agrees that this is the issue that should be the focus of policymaking in 2017-2020, who is aware of Clinton's policy proposals to combat inequality, who agrees with Clinton's policy proposals to combat inequality, and who yet decides not to vote for her because she thinks Clinton has adopted this all out of expedience. Why would that happen?

Correct -- at least when it comes to general-election voters. Democrats will support Clinton because she will be the Democratic candidate. They will assume she agrees with their preferences on policies, and tend to accept the positions she takes and the priorities her campaign sets. Republicans will reject anything she says or does. 

Most true swing voters (not a large group, but a real one) won’t pay much attention to any of it, but at the end of the campaign they will tend to go where the fundamentals take them. If the economy is strong and Barack Obama is otherwise popular, they’ll support Clinton. A new recession or an Obama scandal will push them to the Republican nominee. Truly neutral voters are unlikely to dismiss a message they would otherwise approve of just because they doubt a candidate's sincerity. 

The primary campaign is a different story. A voter who agrees with a candidate’s positions down the line may defect to another contender who is more convincing as a true believer. Nominations often involve candidates who seem identical. Can you tell Scott Walker from Marco Rubio from Bobby Jindal from Rick Perry based only on what they’ve said about where they stand on the issues? 

Primary voters as well as the party actors who are involved in a campaign's earlier stages need to find a way to choose. They might see experience as the best indicator of who might be the most effective president. Or they might use ethnicity, gender or other demographic traits as a guide, or something to identify with the candidate personally. They might be drawn to the best speaker or debater, either because they are inspired or because they assume those skills will produce the strongest general-election candidate.

So it wouldn't be unlikely if primary voters look for the candidate who is most likely to stick to his or her promises and discount promises that seem targeted for transient electoral appeal. 

But none of this applies to Hillary Clinton at the moment, since she has effectively wrapped up the nomination. So, nice catch. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net