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U.S. Raids Get Broad Support; Clinton Issues Not Significant

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Americans overwhelmingly support last week’s U.S. military strikes against suspected terrorist facilities abroad and largely dismiss the notion that the action was timed to distract from President Clinton’s political problems, according to a Los Angeles Times Poll.

Three-quarters of those surveyed approved of the president’s order Thursday to attack targets in Sudan and Afghanistan.

However, a significant number--nearly 40%--believe his problems played at least some role in his decision. Only a tiny percentage believe it was his sole motivation.

In any case, the military strikes have boosted Clinton’s political standing and public confidence in his ability to function as president, regardless of the scandal clouds that surround him.

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Clinton’s job approval rating ticked up to 65% from a Times Poll completed three days earlier. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed gave high marks to the president and his national security team, and those polled also expressed greater confidence in his ability to ignore his political problems and serve effectively as president.

At the same time, the missile attacks did little to assuage the public’s fear of terrorism, with 84% saying a retaliatory attack on U.S. soil is likely.

“The president has gotten the traditional ‘bounce’ from this sort of military intervention,” said Susan Pinkus, director of The Times Poll. “The American people support the president’s decision to launch the attack, and most of them think he acted for the right reasons.”

However, after the missile strikes, Americans appear no more forgiving of his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

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“There is a fairly substantial number of people who expressed certain doubts about the president’s motivations,” Pinkus said.

Indeed, the survey suggests a greater degree of cynicism toward Clinton than before his televised admission Monday of an “inappropriate relationship” with the former intern: 38% of those polled say they believe the Lewinsky matter at least partially influenced the president’s decision to launch military strikes. That percentage is more than double the number who questioned his motivations under similar circumstances seven months ago, soon after allegations regarding Lewinsky surfaced.

In January, Clinton contemplated airstrikes against Iraq in a conflict over weapons inspections. Americans by a large margin supported the move against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, with 77% saying they believed Clinton was acting strictly in response to the situation in the Middle East. Only 16% said they believed the airstrikes were “primarily to divert attention away from the allegations” involving Lewinsky.

In a speech to the nation Thursday, Clinton said he ordered missile strikes against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical weapons plant in Sudan as retaliation for the Aug. 7 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

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He said the strikes were based on strong evidence linking the sites to the embassy bombings and, in his weekly radio address Saturday, suggested that further terrorist attacks might be imminent, as well as an American military response.

The president’s action drew strong bipartisan support from Congress, typical of such foreign intervention. But some skeptics questioned the timing since the military action came three days after Clinton acknowledged an extramarital relationship with Lewinsky, after months of denials.

The Times Poll interviewed 895 adults nationwide by telephone Saturday. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The poll found that Americans approved of the president’s action against suspected terrorist facilities 75% to 16%, with support cutting across party lines.

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Fifty-nine percent of Americans said the president’s action was based solely on “legitimate factors” having nothing to do with his political troubles.

“I don’t think Monica Lewinsky was behind his decision saying, ‘OK, we’re going to bomb now,’ ” said Vana Booth, a 47-year-old school secretary who lives outside Canton, Ohio.

“The time was right, the facts were there, it was time to move,” said Booth, a respondent to the Times Poll who expressed the majority view. “The United States had to take a stand. Other countries look to us to do that.”

Allan Bradley, 44, a computer consultant in St. Petersburg, Fla., was among those who had doubts--the 38% who thought his problems played at least some role in his decision. Of that figure, 6% said they believed Clinton was motivated solely by political considerations.

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“He has tended not to deal with foreign affairs like his Republican predecessors, like Reagan and Bush. He seemed to shun the military,” Bradley said. “The fact it was done so quickly seems so out of character, I think it was at least partly a result of the Monica Lewinsky problem.”

But ultimately, the fact that the nation’s military establishment backed the action convinced Bradley that the missile strikes were appropriate. “If this is the guy who caused what happened in Africa,” Bradley said, referring to suspected terrorist patron Osama bin Laden, “we had to do it.”

Indeed, 73% of Americans said they trusted Clinton and his advisors to make the right decisions about dealing with terrorism--a higher level of confidence than President Bush enjoyed over his actions surrounding the Persian Gulf War. Even 58% of Republicans voiced confidence in Clinton and his national security team.

Despite their strong support for Thursday’s strike, the vast majority of Americans don’t consider the action likely to reduce the threat of terrorism. Eighty-four percent of those polled believe a terrorist strike somewhere in the United States is likely to result from the missile attacks.

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Eighty-eight percent consider terrorism a serious threat in the United States, up from 60% after the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; 57% were concerned about a terrorist assault occurring near their home or work.

Reflecting an apparent ambivalence shared by most Americans, Dale Martin of Groton, Mass., lamented the danger posed by fighting violence with violence.

“If we don’t do something that retaliates, they’ll get more aggressive,” said Martin, a 61-year-old computer company executive. “At the same time, we’re at risk for retaliation.”

Overall, the positive fallout from the strike against suspected foreign terrorists seems to have modestly boosted Clinton’s political standing in an almost textbook illustration of the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon.

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The survey found Clinton’s job rating rose 3 points from a 62% approval rating in a Times Poll completed Wednesday, just a day before the missile attack. Seventy-one percent approved of the president’s handling of foreign policy, up considerably from 56% in the earlier poll.

(Two out of three Americans believe Clinton’s international stature has been diminished by the Lewinsky matter, according to the survey.)

The action also dramatically reversed sentiments regarding Clinton’s ability to ignore his political problems and serve effectively as president. Before Thursday, 67% said Clinton’s problems would interfere with his job as president and only 30% said they would not. In the latest survey, 46% said Clinton could function in office without distraction, compared with 51% who said his problems would prove disruptive.

The military actions appeared to have no effect on public perception of the president regarding his relationship with Lewinsky.

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Roughly the same percentage of respondents before and after Thursday’s missile strikes said independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr should drop the Lewinsky matter (61% vs. 63%) and believe the president should resign or be impeached because of his relationship with the former intern (32% vs. 30%).

Similarly, if Clinton encouraged Lewinsky to lie to cover up their relationship, 53% say he should resign or be impeached and 40% say the matter should be dropped, the same as in the earlier poll.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Impact on Clinton Approval Ratings

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Americans approve of President Clinton’s decision to attack suspected terrorist facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan, a Times Poll finds.

President Clinton’s overall job approval rating:

*--*

Before the missile strikes* Now Approve 62% 65% Disapprove 35% 31%

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*--*

****

Clinton’s job approval rating on foreign affairs:

*--*

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Before the missile strikes* Now Approve 56% 71% Disapprove 33% 22%

*--*

****

Do you approve of disapprove of the decision to attack terrorist facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan?

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Approve: 75%

Disapprove: 16%

Don’t know: 9%

*

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Clinton has now acknowledged that he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky. What should happen next?

*--*

Before the missile strikes* Now He should be impeached 10% 9% He should resign 22% 21% The matter should be dropped 61% 63% Don’t know 7% 7%

*--*

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****

Which statement comes closest to your view about Clinton’s decision to launch missile strikes against terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan?

His sole purpose was to divert attention from the Lewinsky affair: 6%

Part of his motivation was to divert attention from the Lewinsky affair, but other legitimate factors also played a role: 32%

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The Lewinsky affair had nothing to do with his decision: 59%

Don’t know: 3%

* From an L.A. Times national poll, conducted Aug. 18-19.

Note: Numbers might not total 100% where “Don’t know” is not shown.

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How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 895 adults nationwide by telephone Aug. 22. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the nation. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted 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 minus 4 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

Times Poll results are also available at https://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/POLLS/


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