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Character seems to be the Key Issue in Waning Days of US Election Campaign

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president

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FILE - Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs at a Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, N.Y., May 30, 2016. VOA
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Washington, November 5, 2016: Americans will elect a new president on November 8, and while issues like the economy and foreign policy will be important, polls indicate many voters are likely to make their decision based on how they feel about the personal attributes of the two major candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Character issues have dominated the 2016 campaign from the beginning, and there seems to be no let-up in the final days as Clinton and Trump remain focused primarily on each other’s perceived flaws.

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The renewed FBI probe of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state has pushed the issue of her trustworthiness once again front and center. And Trump wasted little time in highlighting the development in his campaign rallies, including one in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s deepest hope that justice, at last, will be beautifully delivered,” said Trump.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Miami, Florida, Nov. 2, 2016. VOA

FBI probe

While Clinton now finds herself on the defensive over the email controversy, she also has shown a willingness to continue to lash out at what she believes are Trump’s character flaws in the final days of the campaign, including a recent get-out-the vote event in Miami.

“Donald Trump is out there stoking fear, disgracing our democracy and insulting one group of Americans after another,” said Clinton.

Presidential campaigns often center on issues like the economy, foreign policy and immigration. But this year is clearly different, said George Washington University political scientist Matt Dallek.

“This race has primarily become about character and about personality,” said Dallek. “I think this issue of character is going to remain front and center. I don’t think it is going away and I think to an unusual degree, issues and policies are not really as central as they typically are.”

Polls show many voters question whether Clinton is trustworthy. An even greater number, though, fear that Trump lacks the temperament to be president.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters outside of an early voting site in Lauderhill, Florida, November 2, 2016. VOA

Trust vs. temperament

Clinton’s challenge was clear in a recent CBS News poll that found only 36 percent of those surveyed said they found Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” compared to 60 percent who did not.

Trump has an uphill battle, however, on the issue of temperament. In that same CBS poll, 65 percent of those surveyed said Trump did not have “the right kind of temperament and personality” to be president, compared with 59 percent who thought Clinton did.

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The perceived flaws of the two candidates have dominated the campaign to an unusual extent, said West Virginia University political scientist Patrick Hickey.

“I think that is a very odd American presidential election in that both candidates are viewed unfavorably by the majority of the American people,” Hickey told VOA on the WVA campus in Morgantown recently. “Usually that might happen to one candidate, but not both.”

This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA
This combination of pictures created on October 09, 2016 shows Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. VOA

Debate confrontations

The questions about character have been center-stage in the campaign and came into sharp relief during the three presidential debates. Trump went after Clinton over the email issue in the second presidential debate and took the unprecedented step of promising an investigation if elected.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” said Trump.

Clinton also seized opportunities to question Trump’s character. In the third debate, it was Clinton who went on the offensive over a series of controversial Trump comments about women.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like,” said Clinton.

For much of the campaign, when one candidate or the other has been focus, that person has generally suffered in the polls. And that’s why the cycle of repeated attacks on each other continues, said American University analyst Austin Hart.

“I think they are happy right now focusing on the candidates themselves, and less about the issues. But that could change, and if it does then something like the economy, like immigration, could matter more,” said Hart.

APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA
APTOPIX Campaign 2016 Clinton. VOA

Tighter race

That seems less likely now in the wake of the FBI announcement that brought Clinton’s email troubles back into focus. There has been some tightening in the polls since the FBI announcement as Clinton’s advantage over Trump has slipped bit.

Some analysts believe Trump’s long list of controversial comments and perceived insults, however, have made it tougher for him to make up much ground.

“He’s viewed as less knowledgeable, obviously less experienced, less empathy, doesn’t have the right temperament to be president,” said Charles Prysby, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “So he is being hurt a lot on character traits, more than anything else.”

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With all the attacks and focus on the character of the candidates this year, West Virginia’s Patrick Hickey said the election outcome likely will depend on which supporters are more motivated to vote.

“And this is a kind of anti-election, as opposed to a pro-election, which I think means that on Election Day, turnout is really going to be what matters, which side can turn out voters to actually get to the polls,” said Hickey.

Given all the focus on character and the multitude of negative attacks, voters seem as eager for the end of the campaign as they are to know the outcome on November 8. One of the longest and most divisive U.S. election campaigns will come to a close next Tuesday, and for many voters, the end can’t come soon enough. (VOA)

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Online Trolls Exposed By FBI Task Force

FBI officials have provided top social media and technology companies with several classified briefings so far this year, sharing “specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.”

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FBI Director Christopher Wray
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House. VOA

The FBI’s new foreign influence task force is sharing information about online trolls with technology companies as part of the bureau’s behind-the-scenes effort to disrupt Russian and other foreign influence operations aimed at U.S. elections, FBI and Justice Department officials say.

FBI Director Christopher Wray set up the task force last November as part of a broader government approach to counter foreign influence operations and to prevent a repeat of Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm and the 2020 presidential elections.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded last year that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election in part by orchestrating a massive social media campaign aimed at swaying American public opinion and sowing discord.

“Technology companies have a front-line responsibility to secure their own networks, products and platforms,” Wray said. “But we’re doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors.”

He said FBI officials have provided top social media and technology companies with several classified briefings so far this year, sharing “specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.”

Adam Hickey, deputy assistant attorney general of the National Security Division at the Justice Department,
Adam Hickey, deputy assistant attorney general of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, testifies on Capitol Hill. VOA

FBI expertise

The task force works with personnel in all 56 FBI field offices and “brings together the FBI’s expertise across the waterfront — counterintelligence, cyber, criminal and even counterterrorism — to root out and respond to foreign influence operations,” Wray said at a White House briefing.

Adam Hickey, a deputy assistant attorney general, said on Monday that the FBI’s unpublicized sharing of information with the social media companies is a “key component” of the Justice Department’s to counter covert foreign influence efforts.

“It is those providers who bear the primary responsibility for securing their own products and platforms,” Hickey said this week at MisinfoCon, an annual conference on misinformation held in Washington, D.C.

“By sharing information with them, especially about who certain users and account holders actually are, we can assist their own, voluntary initiatives to track foreign influence activity and to enforce their own terms of service,” Hickey said.

 Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies on worldwide threats during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. VOA

The comments come as top U.S. security officials from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on down warned about continued attempts by Russia and potentially others to disrupt the November midterm elections.

Coats said on Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies continue “to see a pervasive message campaign” by Russia, while Wray said Moscow “continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”

But the officials and social media company executives say the ongoing misinformation campaign does not reach the unprecedented levels seen during the 2016 election.

Hickey, of the Justice Department’s national security division, said that the agency doesn’t often “expose and attribute” ongoing foreign influence operations partly to protect the investigations, methods and sources, and partly “to avoid even the appearance of partiality.”

The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. VOA
The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. VOA

Social media, technology companies

Social media and technology companies, widely criticized for their role in allowing Russian operatives to use their platforms during the 2016 election, have taken steps over the past year to crack down on misinformation.

In June, Twitter announced new measures to fight abuse and trolls, saying it is focused on “developing machine learning tools that identify and take action on networks of spammy or automated accounts automatically.”

In April, Facebook announced that it had taken down 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts and 138 Facebook pages linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm indicted in February for orchestrating Russia’s social media operations in 2016.

The company did not say whether it had removed the pages and accounts based on information provided by the FBI.

Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism, told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum last month that the social network has moved to shield its users against fake information by deploying artificial intelligence tools that detect fake accounts and instituting transparency in advertising requirements.

Tom Burt, vice president for customer security and trust at Microsoft, speaking at the same event, disclosed that the company had worked with law enforcement earlier this year to foil a Russian attempt to hack the campaigns of three candidates running for office in the midterm elections.

He did not identify the candidates by name but said they “were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asks a question during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington. VOA

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri confirmed late last month that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network, raising questions about the extent to which Russia will try to interfere in the 2018 elections.

Wray stressed that the influence operations are not “an election cycle threat.”

Also Read: Home Router Devices Were Compromised By Foreign Hackers Says FBI

“Our adversaries are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis, whether it’s election season or not,” he said. (VOA)