Poll Analysis: Clinton gets high marks for doing his job, which propels strong sentiment to keep him in office.

     With the Monica S. Lewinsky/President Clinton scandal consuming all oflast year and the beginning of 1999, President Clinton is still a popularpresident. He is seen as one who can effectively do the country's business, inspite of the ongoing trial in the U.S. Senate to remove him from office,according to a new Los Angeles Times poll. Although the American publicbelieves the Republican House Managers made their case on the perjury issue(and not obstruction of justice), they believe it is just partisan politicsigniting the case against the president. They strongly feel that the presidentshould not be removed from office and believe the Senate vote to deliberate inclosed sessions to discuss the dismissal of the case and calling witnesses wasinappropriate. What seems to be propelling Clinton to such stalwart jobapproval ratings from the overall handling of his presidency to handling thebudget surplus and social security, is the sanguine feelings about the country,the robust economy and the respondents' feelings of security about their ownpersonal finances. Americans are also resolved that Clinton rather than theRepublicans in Congress can solve the problems the nation faces.

     Clinton's Job Ratings
     President Clinton's job approval rating hasnot seen any dramatic slippage from positive to negative all through the MonicaLewinsky scandal. In January 1998, Clinton's job approval rating was 68% in aTimes poll, which is when the country first learned of the president's"inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky, to 65% in an August Times poll whenClinton was called before the grand jury, to 64% in a September Times Pollafter the Starr Report was released on the internet. The president's ratingsremained high even after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him andeven now while the Senate trial to remove him from office is continuing. As amatter of fact, after the president's State of the Union address, his jobapproval spiked into the mid 70's as seen in CBS News and CNN/USA Today/Galluppolls. According to the latest Times poll, two-thirds of the American publicapprove of the job President Clinton is doing, while 3 in 10 disapprove. Allage groups have positive ratings for Clinton, especially, the 18-29 year oldswho overwhelmingly think the president is doing a good job. Non-conservativeRepublicans also approve of the president's handling of his job, compared to amajority of conservative Republicans who disapprove. He also gets high marksfor handling the economy, 73% (including 45% who approve strongly), foreignaffairs, 63%, the federal budget surplus, 58% (including all income groups),and Social Security, 61%. Three out of five senior citizens (65 and older)approve of the way Clinton is looking at the Social Security system, as well as56% of those 45-64 years old, 61% of those 30-44 years old and 64% of those18-29 years old.
     As I mentioned before, what is bolsteringClinton's popularity is that virtually all Americans (89%) think the nation'seconomy these days is doing well (32% very well and 57% fairly well), whilejust 8% say badly. They also describe their own finances as secure, except formany of the poorer Americans (those earning less than $20,000) who say theirfinances are shaky (55% v. 45% who say secure). A majority of Americans (53%)also say the country is going in the right direction, while 37% say the countryis seriously off on the wrong track. This good feeling about the country hasnot changed since a January 1998 Times poll showed virtually identical results(53%-38%).
     Bill Clinton has been an interesting andcomplex president for the pundits to analyze. Why is he so popular when manyAmericans believe he doesn't share the same moral values as they do and aredivided over whether he has the honesty and integrity to serve as president ofthe United States? While the public believes in Clinton's ability to be aneffective president, they are not sure about his moral fiber. They knew of hisphilanderings back in 1992 with the Gennifer Flowers incident and then with thePaula Corbin Jones lawsuit, but the public still elected him twice to bepresident and somehow overlooked his character flaws. They believe that theseflaws would not interfere with his ability to do his job as president. Toillustrate that point, in an August '98 Times poll, 51% agreed that it ispossible for Bill Clinton to behave unethically in his personal life, whilemaintaining integrity in his presidential responsibilities, 40% disagreed withthat statement.
     The public knows who Bill Clinton is, butthey are resigned to accept him the way he is. An overwhelming majority, 77%,don't think he shares the same moral values as they do, while 18% think hedoes. Also, Americans are divided over whether Clinton has the honesty andintegrity to serve as president of the United States (46%-48%).
     To Clinton's credit, 59% of the public saythe country is in better shape because of his leadership during the past sixyears, 9% think the country is worse off and 27% say he hasn't made anydifference. Half of the respondents interviewed also think that the presidenthas the better ideas for how to solve the problems this country faces, whileonly 30% think the Republicans in Congress do. About three in five each believeBill Clinton cares about people like themselves, believe his views comes closeto theirs on issues affecting the country, and believe he has a clear vision tolead the country into the next century. Clinton's favorability rating has alsogone up since the last time we polled in September '98 from 51% to 57% and hisunfavorable rating declined slightly from 44% to 40%. Two-thirds of thoseinterviewed also think he can effectively do his job as president during thelast two years of his presidency, about three in 10 say he cannot. Moderatesand independents believe he can (71%, 65% respectively), as well asconservatives (52%). Not surprisingly, 60% of Republicans say he cannoteffectively do his job.
     Another element which explains why Clinton'spresidency is popular with the public is found in the question whetherrespondents like or dislike Clinton as a person and like or dislike hispolicies. A third of the public like Clinton as a person and also like hispolicies, while another third dislike Clinton as a person but like his policies(for a combined 66% who like his policies). Just 8% of respondents say theylike Clinton as a person, yet dislike his policies and only 23% say theydislike Clinton and also dislike his policies (for a combined 31% who dislikehis policies). Looked at another way, 55% of respondents dislike Clintonwhether they liked his policies or not and 42% liked Clinton, irrespective ofhow they felt about his policies.

     Clinton vs. Congress
     Comparing Clinton with Congress, Congress isfar less popular than the president. While Clinton has an overall 67% jobapproval rating, Congress receives a 46% job approval rating and the same 46%disapproval rating. This is a decline from the Times poll taken in September'98 when 53% of respondents gave Congress a positive job rating and 37% gaveCongress a negative rating. Among those following the Senate trial closely, 51%gave Congress a negative job rating, conversely those who are not following thetrial, 51% gave Congress a positive job rating. Conservatives and Republicansapprove of Congress handling its job (52%, 63% respectively), while Democratsand liberals disapprove (58%, 60% respectively). Moderates and independentswere split whether they approve or disapprove of Congress's job performance.
     The GOP in Congress had a slightly moreunfavorable impression than favorable (41%-38%), while the Democrats inCongress had a more favorable impression (49%-34%). If respondents followed thetrial closely, they were divided over their impression of the Republicans, 44%favorable and 45% unfavorable, compared to the Democrats who were seen as morefavorable˜53%-39%.
     It seems like Clinton is moving the agendaalong and the public is responding to it. A question getting at this was askedof respondents: "What do you think should be the most important issue addressedby President Clinton and Congress this year." More than a quarter of thementions were Social Security, followed by education, 14%, and the economy,10%.

     Impeachment Rears Its Ugly Head
     More than two out of five respondents say theRepublican House Managers proved their case on the first article of impeachment˜ that President Clinton committed perjury before the grand jury, while 37% saythey did not. On the second article of impeachment, however, nearly half of therespondents don't believe the House Managers proved their case that Clintonobstructed justice, compared to 33% who think they did. Independents and thosewho are following the trial closely think the House Managers proved the perjurycase, but not the obstruction case.
     Given that, 65% of the American public do notwant President Clinton removed from office, even a majority of moderateRepublicans don't want him removed. The Democrats in Congress are politicallycorrect in standing behind the president as attested by the poll's finding thatvirtually all Democrats want the president to remain in office. Although 62% ofRepublicans want Clinton removed from office, more Republican men (43%) thanRepublican women (30%) want the president to remain in office. Seven in 10 ofthose interviewed say that the U.S. Senate will not get the sixty-seven votesneeded to remove the president and believe this exercise in based solely onpartisan politics and to hurt Clinton politically. If there aren't enough votesto remove the president, 49% say they want to censure Clinton and 46% sayCongress should just drop the matter. Independents, Republicans, moderates andconservatives are more for censure, while the Democrats and liberals are moreinclined to want to drop the whole matter. For purposes of comparison, in anAugust 1974 Gallup poll, 65% believed there was enough evidence of possiblewrongdoing in the case of President Nixon to bring him to trial before theSenate, while 23% didn't feel that way. In the same poll, 57% believedPresident Nixon's actions were serious enough to warrant his being removed fromthe presidency, while 31% thought his actions did not warrant removal.
     More than a third (36%) of the public agreewith the statement that the Republicans in Congress are pursuing impeachmentprimarily because they are concerned about the impact of President Clinton'sactions on the legal and moral fabric of the country, while 59% of the publicagree with the statement that Republicans in Congress are pursuing impeachmentprimarily because they want to hurt President Clinton politically. Similarly,30% of respondents believe the U.S. Senate denied a motion last week to dismissthe case to remove President Clinton from office and instead subpoena witnessesas a decision primarily motivated by a search to find the truth, compared to62% who say it was primarily motivated by partisan politics.
     Those interviewed also thought it wasinappropriate (48%) to not open deliberations on the motion to dismiss and themotion to subpoena witnesses in the Senate trial, while 43% thought it wasappropriate. Liberals were divided about this issue (45%-47%). Among thosefollowing the trial closely were virtually split about the appropriateness ofclosed sessions (48%-47%). Sixty percent of the public say it was unnecessaryto call witnesses (including 44% who say very unnecessary), while 37% say it isnecessary (including 24% who say very necessary). Of those who say it isunnecessary to call witnesses, the top mentions cited are: there are many pagesof testimony and the Senate does not need to call witnesses (66%), it willextend the length of the trial (33%), both sides made strong enough arguments(4%) and witnesses are too unpredictable (4%). Of those who say it is necessaryto call witnesses, the top mentions cited are: it will get at thecontradictions (35%), trials always have witnesses (22%), Senate will be ableto look at the witnesses in person, look into their eyes, see their bodylanguage (18%) and witnesses should be able to explain their part in thescandal (15%).
     Representative Henry Hyde, Chairman of theHouse Judiciary Committee and one of the Republican House Managers, is notknown by many Americans. More than half (53%) haven't heard enough about him tosay, but of those who do have an impression of him, 21% have a favorableimpression and 26% have an unfavorable impression. Of those who are followingthe trial closely, the impression of Hyde was more unfavorable, 33%-26%. TrentLott, the Senate Majority Leader is not known by 55% of Americans and amongthose who have heard of him, 25% have a favorable impression and 20% have anunfavorable impression. If respondents follow the trial closely, 30% have afavorable impression while 24% have an unfavorable impression.

     President Clinton's Place in History
     When asked how history will view BillClinton, just as many say above average as below average. Ten percent of thoseinterviewed say he will go down in history as an outstanding president, 27% asan above-average president (for a combined total of 37% above average), 23%average, 16% below average and 19% poor (for a combined 35% below average). Notsurprisingly 55% of Democrats say history will view Clinton as an above averagepresident, while 60% of Republicans say below average. However, 44% ofindependents say he will go down in history as below average, 32% above averageand 21% just average. Nearly 2 out of five moderates say he will be viewed asabove average, 29% average and 29% below average.
     To put that in perspective: in a 1/93 Timespoll, 38% of Americans said former President George Bush would go down inhistory as above average, 38% as average and 23% as below average; in a 12/88Gallup poll a whopping 59% of Americans said former President Ronald Reaganwould go down in history as above average, 25% as average and just 14% as belowaverage; and in a 12/80 Gallup poll just 14% of Americans said former PresidentJimmy Carter would go down in history as above average, 37% as average and afull 46% as below average.

     Clinton's Proposals Mentioned In the Stateof the Union
     President Clinton enjoys strong support formany of the particulars he laid out in his State of the Union address. Anoverwhelming 78% support Clinton's plan to strengthen Social Security by usingabout sixty percent of the budget surplus over the next fifteen years to extendits solvency by two decades. Almost 9 in 10 support devoting 600 billiondollars of the surplus over the next fifteen years to Medicare, the health careprogram for the elderly. The public also supports: by an overwhelming majority(83%) tax breaks to make child care affordable for working families; 59%support holding schools accountable for higher standards or risk losing some oftheir federal funds; 62% support an HMO bill of rights for patients even afterhearing some of the arguments by the opponents that it could increase the costof health insurance and cause some employers to no longer provide coverage; 81%support increasing the minimum wage one dollar over the next two year; and 77%support spending billions of dollars over the next six years for militaryreadiness, improving troop benefits, and modernizing weapons.

    Clinton's Proposals vs. the RepublicanProposals
     On the matter of taxes vs. spending,Americans are evidently of two minds. Asked directly which they would prefer more spending or ten percent or more across the board income tax rate cut, 52%favor lower taxes and 35% support expanded programs. But when the details ofClinton's proposal were outlined, sentiments shifted. Fifty-four percent thensaid they prefer the presidents plan for spending the surplus, compared to 41%who favor getting the money back in the form of a tax cut.
     Americans, however, side with Republicans onone matter involving structural reform of the Social Security system. Clintonhas called for the federal government to invest a quarter of the SocialSecurity fund in stocks, bonds and other securities, to increase returns andshore up financing of the system. Republicans, on the other hand, say thegovernment should not own stock in private companies since the government couldwind up as a major shareholder of a particular stock, which might open up apotential conflict of interest. Almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) prefer theGOP proposal and 24% prefer Clinton's.
     Americans are also on the side of theRepublicans when explaining about the universal savings accounts and how theywould work. More than half (54%) of the public prefer the GOP proposal.Republicans say part of the payroll tax individuals already pay into the SocialSecurity system should be diverted from that fund into individual retirementaccounts. Workers could invest the retirement funds in these savings accountsas they see fit. A third prefer Clinton's proposal. His proposal would createuniversal savings accounts to help individuals save for retirement. Fivehundred billion dollars of the budget surplus over the next fifteen years wouldbe used to match a portion of each dollar saved in these accounts, which wouldbe in addition to the payments people receive from Social Security.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 960 adultsnationwide by telephone January 27-29. Telephone numbers were chosen from alist of all exchanges in the nation. Random-digit dialing techniques were usedso that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample wasweighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education,and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is plus or minusthree percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhathigher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as questionwording and the order in which questions are presented.
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World