Leaving aside the controversy of who/how, one thing that puzzles me about people discussing the hacked e-mails provided to Wikileaks is "why would that matter as far as general elections at all"?

Most of them seem to revolve around DNC internal matters and Democratic party primaries.

As such, they seem to me to be likely to have influenced voters in the primaries (Clinton => Sanders), but I'm having a hard time seeing how they would meaningfully affect general election.

It doesn't seem likely that disgruntled Sanders supporters would decide "eff it, I'll let Trump win out of spite". It doesn't seem that people who'd vote for Trump would suddenly be more motivated to vote for him due to shenanigans in the DNC (they already heard "crooked Hillary" story from him and Republicans since 1990s, nothing earth-shatteringly new here).

As such:

Was there any info in those emails that was likely to sway general election outcome? (as in, matter to someone deciding to choose to vote for Clinton or Trump)

I'm willing to accept answers based on actual polling data (strongly preferred), or well-reasoned fundamentals.

  • 2
    Swaying an election does not necessitate swaying undecided voters. Getting enough supporting voters to the polls by firing up the base sways elections too. None of this even needs to be done by logical arguments, but the campaign seemed to think it was a viable attack campaign. Ultimately, I don't think you will be able to get an accurate measure of the impact, which is why an attacker would target the people's thoughts rather than the voting system itself.
    – Batman
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 1:52
  • 1
    @AlexanderO'Mara - true, but that's still my point. People who vote Trump wouldn't be motivated by "Clinton screwed over Sanders" - they're just as likely as not to be MORE anti-"socialist"-Sanders than anti-Clinton, based on ideology. And they are already on the "she's crooked" bandwagon.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 2:19
  • 3
    Keep in mind that election campaigns in the US are not so much about swaying undecided voters but rather to convincing your supporters to go voting and the supporters of your opponent to stay home. Half of US eligible voters don't vote at all, so it's usually more effective to target the 50% who don't plan to vote than the 25% who have already decided to vote for your opponent.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 11:27
  • 3
    I think the question is a bit restrictive, as it implies the contents of the emails are the only factor that may be significant, and precludes, for example, consideration of how having the emails drip-feed to the press meant drowned out other stories that may have been good for clinton or bad for trump. Suggest rewording it as "how could the release of the hacked clinton/DNC emails have influenced the election outcome?"
    – Jonno
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 9:26
  • 1
    @Thufir - technically speaking, DNC is a private organization and its leaders aren't public officials (well, not in their roles as DNC members, at least)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 21:11

3 Answers 3


There is a fundamental flaw in your reasoning: that people actually read the full emails in context.

In reality, many don't.

Any sufficiently large batch of emails from any public figure will be damaging, as long as you have people willing to go through them looking for something damaging.

Clinton is no exception. Some people are convinced that Clinton is corrupt and a "crook", so those people will see all new information about her with that bias. It's one thing to read a batch of emails and stumble upon something damaging. It's quite another to read through that same batch intent on finding something – anything – damaging.

This is hardly unique to Clinton by the way. Other examples include "climategate", creationists, conspiracy theorists, and so forth. All these people have one thing in common: they start with the conclusion – which they are convinced is true – and will then try to find evidence to support it.

Most of these people operate in the fringe, since they're generally not taken serious. But sometimes they are and if you repeat something often and loud enough it'll stick with at least some of the population. They may not see rebuttals, or they may not find them convincing. It also leads to a "where there's smoke, there's fire"-sort of thinking.

So to answer your question:

Was there any info in those emails that was likely to sway general election outcome

Yes, because the actual contents of the emails are unimportant since any sufficiently large batch of emails can be quotemined for something damaging (which will sway election outcomes).

Had there been something truly outrageous in those emails – "Thanks for fraudulently rigging the votes in Iowa. I will send the final payment soon. Love, Hillary" – we would have heard by now.

  • 1
    Unless I misunderstood, your answer is "no there was nothing there of the sort the question asks about, but I'm making an unsupported assertion that some unidentified amount of people were swayed by mere existence of emails". is that a correct summary?
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 21:46
  • 1
    @user4012 I don't think that's a fair summary, since it's not an "assertion" but a line of reasoning based on well established facts. I'm not 100% sure if this line of reasoning is also correct, but I suspect it is. If you're looking for "answers based on actual polling data" as you mention in your question, then that seems unpractical to me. How would such a hypothetical poll or study work?
    – user11249
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 21:54
  • 1
    Well, a direct question (did any pieces of email released by Wikileaks cause you to consider changing your vote = not voting for Clinton, or voting for trump, when previously you planned otherwise. If so, was it specific information or a totality?) would work. Only asked of people who answer previous question (about have you changed your vote in this time period from clinton/to trump) positively.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 22:03
  • 2
    @user4012 The problem with such a survey is that it would poll the perception of those emails, rather than the actual content of those emails. Unless you would restrict yourself to people who have read the emails personally, which would be somewhat impractical and would introduce a bias in the result. Besides, people are not necessarily very good at analysing their own motives or remembering their previous opinions, so I'm always a bit wary of polls based on self-reporting such as the one you're proposing. The polls that do exist are the general "who will you vote for" polls, and ...
    – user11249
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 22:30
  • 1
    ... those have shown drops after "revelations" about Clinton emails which seems to indicate it has an effect on the election results (but again, this measures the perception, not the content).
    – user11249
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 22:30

Your question appears to presuppose that the "hacking" had an actual effect.

The only alleged "hacking" was of John Podesta's email account; that has been attributed to Russian Intelligence or Russian hackers (RH).

The only widespread dissemination of Podesta's emails was by Wikileaks. The head [Julian Assange] of Wikileaks denies that the information published by Wikileaks was from Russian intelligence. Assange has stated that the information published by Wikileaks was from a disgruntled DNC staffer (this should be considered plausible as it was widely known to staffers that Podesta's email password was "password"). Following the mysterious murder of Seth Rich, Assange has suggested that Seth Rich was the source of the DNC documents given to Wikileaks (http://bit.ly/2j9zZfE).

If Wikileaks did obtain the Podesta emails from Seth Rich, and not Russian hackers [RH] as the US Government alleges, then one must ask, 'where did the RH disseminate the information obtained by hacking Podesta's emails?'

There does not appear to be any reference to the source of Podesta's email from anyone other than Wikileaks.

Thus, you must decide if Assange is telling the truth and Wikileaks did not receive its information from RH. Or, if Assange is lying to protect the RH.

IF ASSANGE IS TELLING THE TRUTH, that Wikileaks received the Podesta emails from a disgruntled insider, then THE HACKING HAD NO EFFECT because it was not published or widely disseminated in any fashion.

If Assange is lying and the Podesta emails (published by Wikileaks) were obtained from RH, the the effect of hacking on the election would be limited to the Podesta emails published by Wikileaks - there has been no other allegation of hacked material being released.

Podesta's emails did not real a 'smoking gun' that could be used to specifically condemn Hillary Clinton. There were vague references that allowed some to allege that Podesta and Clinton were involved in child sex trafficking (pizza-gate) and that the various women making allegations against Trump were shills for the DNC and Clinton.

The actual effect of these revelations seems to be minimal, if any. Clinton supporters were not appalled by the emails and Trump supporters claimed validation of their opinion of Clinton and Democrats, by extension.

Thus, it is doubtful that the hacked/leaked Podesta emails had any real sway on the election. Democrats ignored the emails and those who were ALREADY Trump supporters reveled in the releases. Independents balked from the Byzantine maze of information contained by the emails. In any case, their sway was minimal.

As an aside, one commentator has been advocating that the hack was by US Intelligence (http://bit.ly/2hY3S50) "Judge Napolitano: U.S. Intelligence Behind Leaking Clinton Emails To Wikileaks, Not Russian Hackers" This refers to emails from Hillary Clinton's server. Considering that Clinton had surrendered her email server to the FBI in March, 2015, the US intelligence (CIA/NSA) would have had to have hacked the server before 2014, or even as early as her term as Secretary of State, 2009-2013 (the servers were offline after March, 2015 and no one neither CIA/NSA nor RH would have been able to access the drives). Alternatively, one would have to say that the CIA/NSA conspired with the FBI who had her drives in 2015-2016. A hacking by CIA/NSA and possibly FBI would have been a major affector with the controversy surrounding the FBI announcements that Mrs Clinton wouldn't be indicted and then changed to 'the case was still open' only eleven days before the election. So, if you consider the Clinton emails as hacked, then, in conjunction with the FBI, there probably was a significant swaying of the electorate from Mrs. Clinton.

  • 1
    "(this should be considered plausible as it was widely known to staffers that Podesta's email password was "password")" Source??? Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 5:23
  • 2
    This idea appears to have been completely debunked. politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/jan/06/jesse-watters/… Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 9:45
  • To:aquirdturtle NY Times December 2016 - nyti.ms/2gImcOY "Given how many emails Mr. Podesta received through this personal email account, several aides also had access to it, and one of them noticed the warning email, sending it to a computer technician to make" sure it was legitimate before anyone clicked on the “change password” button. OK, used p@ssw0rd -- a simple variant
    – user10791
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 2:14
  • @aquirdturtle Hope NY Times is adequate, link to Dec 13 article
    – user10791
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 2:25
  • p@ssw0rd was a temporary password for a computer login, not his email address, if you read the relevant section carefully. Probably not worth making a fuss over that detail though. I didn't post to debate the probability of an aide leaking info, that's clearly a much longer conversation. Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 5:30

There does not appear to be any evidence that any info contained within the hacked Clinton/DNC emails had an impact on how people voted.

While there is a correlation between the Wikileaks drops and Clinton's decline in the polls, this can be explained by the coverage of the drops a) shifting focus away from Trump scandals (Access Hollywood tapes, Trump Foundation, etc) and b) reinforcing negative association in voters minds of 'Clinton' and 'email'.

  • At this point, I don't see the reason to hack the emails at all. Seems you can just fake them with about the same effect, but less work and less risk.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 3:10
  • The motivation of the hackers is covered in the IC Report - washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/politics/…
    – Jonno
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 3:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .