Reading about the US election, the fact that it's even a contest can sometimes seem kind of baffling.

After all, Donald Trump regularly makes global headlines for all the wrong reasons. His remarks are frequently and often deliberately outrageous; he's set a new record as the least popular presidential candidate in the country's history; and as Vice President Joe Biden said at the Democratic National Convention last month: "He has no clue about what makes America great."

Yet his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, isn't exactly soaring high above him.

While she's maintained a consistent lead in the polls, Clinton is on a similar track to become the least popular Democratic nominee in history.


A number of experts spoken to by have argued a less radical Republican alternative to Donald Trump would have been a shoo-in at the November election.

But on paper, at least, Clinton is clearly capable. She's an intelligent, highly experienced candidate, having been part of the political game and a key public service figure for decades.

Yet Clinton's support seems to stem more from a desire to keep Trump out, rather than vote her in. What is it that's prevented her from fully resonating with the public in this election?


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers opening remarks during a meeting with law enforcement officials at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Photo / Getty
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers opening remarks during a meeting with law enforcement officials at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Photo / Getty

Last year, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut polled voters on the first word that came to mind when they heard Hillary Clinton's name.

The most frequently mentioned term was 'liar', followed by 'dishonest' and 'untrustworthy'.

There were some positive descriptions ('experienced' and 'strong') further down the list.

The mistrust of Clinton is a big issue for many American voters. The latest New York Times poll showed 67 per cent of registered voters had doubts about her trustworthiness.

This sentiment is a staple of Trump's campaign - he almost exclusively refers to her as 'Crooked Hillary', having previously described her as a 'world-class liar' and 'guilty as hell'.

Speaking to, Tom Switzer, a research associate at the United States Studies Centre, said a win for Clinton wouldn't necessarily signify a positive endorsement of the candidate.

"People aren't voting for Hillary Clinton," he said. "They're voting against Donald Trump.

"A lot of Americans are profoundly unhappy about the direction in which their country is going. I'd say she's the second most unpopular presidential candidate we've had, except for Trump."

He pointed out that Clinton did, of course, have a wealth of political experience, deeming her "the most experienced presidential candidate we've had since George HW Bush in 1988".

From the moment her husband ran for president in 1991, Clinton was in the public eye. She has maintained that presence over the past two-and-a-half decades as a high-profile former First Lady, a New York senator and as Secretary of State.

Switzer also acknowledged Clinton as a brilliant writer, lawyer and public speaker.

"But the key point is she's the queen of the liberal establishment," he said. "She's been a major figure in US politics for a quarter of a century. Both Democrats and Republicans as we've seen in this recent primary contest are railing against the Washington establishment."

This, he said, was the basis of why people resented her. Having been on the scene for a long time, it was widely accepted that she was part of 'the establishment' - an establishment today's Americans mistrusted.

It didn't help that Clinton struggled to authentically resonate with the public, with some describing her as "Bill without the charisma".

In a recent New York Times podcast, Mark Landler, a White House correspondent who penned a book about her time as secretary of state, described her as a "corporate relic of the past, at odds with today's trusting, intimate, personable world of social media".

He said her answers sounded calculated and she refused to allow herself to fully embrace the public - and vice versa.

"Everything she says and does appears to be done so from behind a wall of secrecy; a guarded exterior that no one can crack beyond her policies."

This could also explain why she struggles to appeal to young voters who supported Bernie Sanders throughout the Democratic presidential primary.

In June this year, The Washington Post reported that Sanders was more favoured among young voters - by a whopping 400,000 votes - than Clinton and Trump combined.

According to a July GenForward poll of adults ages 18 to 30, seven in 10 young voters said they were dissatisfied with the race between Clinton and Trump and wanted the option of a third party candidate.


On Clinton's policies, critics of the presidential nominee often asserted that she flip-flopped on her stance to suit the political climate of the time.

Over the past decade, the views she has expressed have changed on various issues, from same-sex marriage to free trade.

But as far as mistrust of Clinton goes, Switzer dismissed this as a triviality, saying it was merely part of the game of politics.

"Name one politician who hasn't flip-flopped on their policies," he said.

"Yes, it probably does reaffirm that widespread view that she's untrustworthy and so on, but everybody - Hillary Clinton, her husband, George Bush, even Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, they all flip-flop.

"I think the untrustworthiness more comes from the allegations of corruption and the scandals that have surrounded her for the past 25 years."

Indeed, the Clintons have been associated with scandal since the Whitewater controversy more than two decades ago.

More recently, she has again been haunted by her husband's string of alleged affairs and assault cases throughout the 1990s.

Last November, for example, Clinton tweeted that every rape survivor had "the right to be heard, believed and supported".

A month later, she was asked at a campaign event whether those who have accused her husband of sexual assault deserved to be "believed" as well.

Her response, delivered with a smile, was awkward and restrained: "Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence."

In February, according to Buzzfeed News, the line was removed entirely from Clinton's website. The campaign did not comment on the cut.

"I think there's a sense now that she was too quick to accuse women who accused her husband of harassment," said Switzer. "She was too quick to dismiss their concerns. Now she says that whenever a woman asserts that she was assaulted, she is to be believed.

"The sentiment is, why didn't she apply that logic when women were making these serious accusations about her husband? He wasn't just an adulterer - he even harassed a woman.

"A lot of Americans are suspicious of her."

Another ongoing controversy associated with Clinton is, of course, the email scandal.

When she became Secretary of State in 2009, Clinton set up a private server for her emails instead of using the official government system.

When an investigation was carried out, Clinton claimed no email she sent or received through the server had been classified.

The FBI investigation later concluded this was not true, accusing Clinton and her aides of being "extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information".

However, Director James Comey added there was no proof that Clinton had actually intended to break laws governing classified information.

Mr Switzer said this ongoing controversy reaffirmed the view of her as untrustworthy. "She was reprimanded by the FBI," he said. "You can't sugar-coat that."


So, will Clinton win? While we won't know until November, the speculation is more mixed than you might expect. Some people, including Republicans, have argued that anyone would be a shoe-in next to a candidate as radical as Trump.

In the past month, even top-shelf Republicans have turned on him in favour of Clinton.

But others argue Americans are too complacent.

Last month, filmmaker Michael Moore warned the world to be prepared for a Trump victory.

"President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, cause you'll be saying them for the next four years," he said.

He too said Clinton's biggest problem was the perception of her as untrustworthy, adding that she embodied the old way of politics: "Not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected."

But Switzer disagreed with the latter view, predicting Clinton would most certainly emerge victorious in November.

"She is going to win, and she is going to win for one main reason," he said.

"She's successfully made this election a referendum on Donald Trump."