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

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     With the Monica S. Lewinsky/President Clinton scandal consuming all of last year and the beginning of 1999, President Clinton is still a popular president. He is seen as one who can effectively do the country's business, in spite 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 public believes the Republican House Managers made their case on the perjury issue (and not obstruction of justice), they believe it is just partisan politics igniting the case against the president. They strongly feel that the president should not be removed from office and believe the Senate vote to deliberate in closed sessions to discuss the dismissal of the case and calling witnesses was inappropriate. What seems to be propelling Clinton to such stalwart job approval ratings from the overall handling of his presidency to handling the budget surplus and social security, is the sanguine feelings about the country, the robust economy and the respondents' feelings of security about their own personal finances. Americans are also resolved that Clinton rather than the Republicans in Congress can solve the problems the nation faces.

     Clinton's Job Ratings
     President Clinton's job approval rating has not seen any dramatic slippage from positive to negative all through the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In January 1998, Clinton's job approval rating was 68% in a Times poll, which is when the country first learned of the president's "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky, to 65% in an August Times poll when Clinton was called before the grand jury, to 64% in a September Times Poll after the Starr Report was released on the internet. The president's ratings remained high even after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him and even now while the Senate trial to remove him from office is continuing. As a matter of fact, after the president's State of the Union address, his job approval spiked into the mid 70's as seen in CBS News and CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls. According to the latest Times poll, two-thirds of the American public approve of the job President Clinton is doing, while 3 in 10 disapprove. All age groups have positive ratings for Clinton, especially, the 18-29 year olds who overwhelmingly think the president is doing a good job. Non-conservative Republicans also approve of the president's handling of his job, compared to a majority of conservative Republicans who disapprove. He also gets high marks for handling the economy, 73% (including 45% who approve strongly), foreign affairs, 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 as 56% of those 45-64 years old, 61% of those 30-44 years old and 64% of those 18-29 years old.
     As I mentioned before, what is bolstering Clinton's popularity is that virtually all Americans (89%) think the nation's economy these days is doing well (32% very well and 57% fairly well), while just 8% say badly. They also describe their own finances as secure, except for many of the poorer Americans (those earning less than $20,000) who say their finances 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 country is seriously off on the wrong track. This good feeling about the country has not changed since a January 1998 Times poll showed virtually identical results (53%-38%).
     Bill Clinton has been an interesting and complex president for the pundits to analyze. Why is he so popular when many Americans believe he doesn't share the same moral values as they do and are divided over whether he has the honesty and integrity to serve as president of the United States? While the public believes in Clinton's ability to be an effective president, they are not sure about his moral fiber. They knew of his philanderings back in 1992 with the Gennifer Flowers incident and then with the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit, but the public still elected him twice to be president and somehow overlooked his character flaws. They believe that these flaws would not interfere with his ability to do his job as president. To illustrate that point, in an August '98 Times poll, 51% agreed that it is possible for Bill Clinton to behave unethically in his personal life, while maintaining integrity in his presidential responsibilities, 40% disagreed with that statement.
     The public knows who Bill Clinton is, but they 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 he does. Also, Americans are divided over whether Clinton has the honesty and integrity to serve as president of the United States (46%-48%).
     To Clinton's credit, 59% of the public say the country is in better shape because of his leadership during the past six years, 9% think the country is worse off and 27% say he hasn't made any difference. Half of the respondents interviewed also think that the president has the better ideas for how to solve the problems this country faces, while only 30% think the Republicans in Congress do. About three in five each believe Bill Clinton cares about people like themselves, believe his views comes close to theirs on issues affecting the country, and believe he has a clear vision to lead the country into the next century. Clinton's favorability rating has also gone up since the last time we polled in September '98 from 51% to 57% and his unfavorable rating declined slightly from 44% to 40%. Two-thirds of those interviewed also think he can effectively do his job as president during the last two years of his presidency, about three in 10 say he cannot. Moderates and independents believe he can (71%, 65% respectively), as well as conservatives (52%). Not surprisingly, 60% of Republicans say he cannot effectively do his job.
     Another element which explains why Clinton's presidency is popular with the public is found in the question whether respondents like or dislike Clinton as a person and like or dislike his policies. A third of the public like Clinton as a person and also like his policies, 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 they like Clinton as a person, yet dislike his policies and only 23% say they dislike Clinton and also dislike his policies (for a combined 31% who dislike his policies). Looked at another way, 55% of respondents dislike Clinton whether they liked his policies or not and 42% liked Clinton, irrespective of how they felt about his policies.

     Clinton vs. Congress
     Comparing Clinton with Congress, Congress is far less popular than the president. While Clinton has an overall 67% job approval 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% gave Congress a negative rating. Among those following the Senate trial closely, 51% gave Congress a negative job rating, conversely those who are not following the trial, 51% gave Congress a positive job rating. Conservatives and Republicans approve of Congress handling its job (52%, 63% respectively), while Democrats and liberals disapprove (58%, 60% respectively). Moderates and independents were split whether they approve or disapprove of Congress's job performance.
     The GOP in Congress had a slightly more unfavorable impression than favorable (41%-38%), while the Democrats in Congress had a more favorable impression (49%-34%). If respondents followed the trial closely, they were divided over their impression of the Republicans, 44% favorable and 45% unfavorable, compared to the Democrats who were seen as more favorable˜53%-39%.
     It seems like Clinton is moving the agenda along and the public is responding to it. A question getting at this was asked of respondents: "What do you think should be the most important issue addressed by President Clinton and Congress this year." More than a quarter of the mentions were Social Security, followed by education, 14%, and the economy, 10%.

     Impeachment Rears Its Ugly Head
     More than two out of five respondents say the Republican House Managers proved their case on the first article of impeachment ˜ that President Clinton committed perjury before the grand jury, while 37% say they did not. On the second article of impeachment, however, nearly half of the respondents don't believe the House Managers proved their case that Clinton obstructed justice, compared to 33% who think they did. Independents and those who are following the trial closely think the House Managers proved the perjury case, but not the obstruction case.
     Given that, 65% of the American public do not want President Clinton removed from office, even a majority of moderate Republicans don't want him removed. The Democrats in Congress are politically correct in standing behind the president as attested by the poll's finding that virtually all Democrats want the president to remain in office. Although 62% of Republicans want Clinton removed from office, more Republican men (43%) than Republican women (30%) want the president to remain in office. Seven in 10 of those interviewed say that the U.S. Senate will not get the sixty-seven votes needed to remove the president and believe this exercise in based solely on partisan politics and to hurt Clinton politically. If there aren't enough votes to remove the president, 49% say they want to censure Clinton and 46% say Congress should just drop the matter. Independents, Republicans, moderates and conservatives are more for censure, while the Democrats and liberals are more inclined to want to drop the whole matter. For purposes of comparison, in an August 1974 Gallup poll, 65% believed there was enough evidence of possible wrongdoing in the case of President Nixon to bring him to trial before the Senate, while 23% didn't feel that way. In the same poll, 57% believed President Nixon's actions were serious enough to warrant his being removed from the presidency, while 31% thought his actions did not warrant removal.
     More than a third (36%) of the public agree with the statement that the Republicans in Congress are pursuing impeachment primarily because they are concerned about the impact of President Clinton's actions on the legal and moral fabric of the country, while 59% of the public agree with the statement that Republicans in Congress are pursuing impeachment primarily because they want to hurt President Clinton politically. Similarly, 30% of respondents believe the U.S. Senate denied a motion last week to dismiss the case to remove President Clinton from office and instead subpoena witnesses as a decision primarily motivated by a search to find the truth, compared to 62% who say it was primarily motivated by partisan politics.
     Those interviewed also thought it was inappropriate (48%) to not open deliberations on the motion to dismiss and the motion to subpoena witnesses in the Senate trial, while 43% thought it was appropriate. Liberals were divided about this issue (45%-47%). Among those following the trial closely were virtually split about the appropriateness of closed sessions (48%-47%). Sixty percent of the public say it was unnecessary to call witnesses (including 44% who say very unnecessary), while 37% say it is necessary (including 24% who say very necessary). Of those who say it is unnecessary to call witnesses, the top mentions cited are: there are many pages of testimony and the Senate does not need to call witnesses (66%), it will extend 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 necessary to call witnesses, the top mentions cited are: it will get at the contradictions (35%), trials always have witnesses (22%), Senate will be able to look at the witnesses in person, look into their eyes, see their body language (18%) and witnesses should be able to explain their part in the scandal (15%).
     Representative Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the Republican House Managers, is not known by many Americans. More than half (53%) haven't heard enough about him to say, but of those who do have an impression of him, 21% have a favorable impression and 26% have an unfavorable impression. Of those who are following the trial closely, the impression of Hyde was more unfavorable, 33%-26%. Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader is not known by 55% of Americans and among those who have heard of him, 25% have a favorable impression and 20% have an unfavorable impression. If respondents follow the trial closely, 30% have a favorable impression while 24% have an unfavorable impression.

     President Clinton's Place in History
     When asked how history will view Bill Clinton, just as many say above average as below average. Ten percent of those interviewed say he will go down in history as an outstanding president, 27% as an 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). Not surprisingly 55% of Democrats say history will view Clinton as an above average president, while 60% of Republicans say below average. However, 44% of independents say he will go down in history as below average, 32% above average and 21% just average. Nearly 2 out of five moderates say he will be viewed as above average, 29% average and 29% below average.
     To put that in perspective: in a 1/93 Times poll, 38% of Americans said former President George Bush would go down in history as above average, 38% as average and 23% as below average; in a 12/88 Gallup poll a whopping 59% of Americans said former President Ronald Reagan would go down in history as above average, 25% as average and just 14% as below average; and in a 12/80 Gallup poll just 14% of Americans said former President Jimmy Carter would go down in history as above average, 37% as average and a full 46% as below average.

     Clinton's Proposals Mentioned In the State of the Union
     President Clinton enjoys strong support for many of the particulars he laid out in his State of the Union address. An overwhelming 78% support Clinton's plan to strengthen Social Security by using about sixty percent of the budget surplus over the next fifteen years to extend its solvency by two decades. Almost 9 in 10 support devoting 600 billion dollars of the surplus over the next fifteen years to Medicare, the health care program 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 of their federal funds; 62% support an HMO bill of rights for patients even after hearing some of the arguments by the opponents that it could increase the cost of 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 military readiness, improving troop benefits, and modernizing weapons.

    Clinton's Proposals vs. the Republican Proposals
     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 of Clinton's proposal were outlined, sentiments shifted. Fifty-four percent then said 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 on one matter involving structural reform of the Social Security system. Clinton has called for the federal government to invest a quarter of the Social Security fund in stocks, bonds and other securities, to increase returns and shore up financing of the system. Republicans, on the other hand, say the government should not own stock in private companies since the government could wind up as a major shareholder of a particular stock, which might open up a potential conflict of interest. Almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) prefer the GOP proposal and 24% prefer Clinton's.
     Americans are also on the side of the Republicans when explaining about the universal savings accounts and how they would work. More than half (54%) of the public prefer the GOP proposal. Republicans say part of the payroll tax individuals already pay into the Social Security system should be diverted from that fund into individual retirement accounts. Workers could invest the retirement funds in these savings accounts as they see fit. A third prefer Clinton's proposal. His proposal would create universal savings accounts to help individuals save for retirement. Five hundred billion dollars of the budget surplus over the next fifteen years would be used to match a portion of each dollar saved in these accounts, which would be in addition to the payments people receive from Social Security.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 960 adults nationwide by telephone January 27-29. 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 three 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.

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