Hillary Clinton's 'email' problem was bigger than anyone realized

(CNN)Hillary Clinton's ongoing struggle to deal with the revelation that she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state dominated the conversation about her presidential candidacy, and research suggests it might have doomed her campaign, according to a new study by a consortium of pollsters released over the weekend.

In the paper, presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research's annual conference in New Orleans, pollsters and political scientists from Gallup, Georgetown University and the University of Michigan studied the daily Gallup tracking poll from July 10 to November 7, 2016. In particular, they zeroed in on one question: "Have you read, seen or heard anything about (Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump) in the last day or two?" They then zeroed in on the "yes" responses and categorized what, exactly, people said they had read, seen or heard.
Here's what people had read, seen or heard about Clinton looks like in a word cloud (the bigger the word, the more often it was mentioned):
    As you can see, "email" drowns out every other term mentioned about Clinton. It was, without question, the dominant narrative of the election for her -- at least in the five months that this paper documents. And, according to the study, the mentions of email correlate directly to negative views of Clinton.
    Now, check out Trump's word cloud:
    There's nothing to match the Clinton "email" mentions. And although some of the most commonly mentioned words are negative storylines for Trump -- "women," most notably -- there's a lot of more neutral mentions: "debate," "people" and "president." This speaks to the theory that by throwing so many balls up in the air every day -- via his stump speeches, Twitter, etc. -- Trump made it impossible for anyone to follow all of them. Everything seemed like a molehill. Even the mountains.
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    What's more, the word "email" came up more and more in the final weeks of the election -- particularly in the wake of then-FBI Director James Comey's announcement in late October that he was re-starting an investigation into Clinton's server.
    Here's the word clouds broken into a week-by-week timeline of the last month of the campaign. Again, the larger the word appears, the more it was mentioned as something people had seen, read or heard about Clinton or Trump.
    Not only did "email" dominate the conversation around Clinton, it dominated the entire conversation in the race. From October 23 on, Trump is barely talked about -- an amazing feat for someone so willing to make news.
    This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media's unnecessary focus on Clinton's email server cost her the election.
    I'd agree that Clinton's email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn't agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.
    After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public's already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters' minds.
    Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.