CBS Poll: Don't Impeach

A majority of the public does not think the House of Representatives will vote for President Clinton's impeachment when it returns to work on Thursday, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. Instead, Americans expect there will be some sort of compromise and censure worked out.

And when asked what should happen, only 21 percent of those polled said they favor impeaching President Clinton as opposed to censuring him or dropping the matter altogether.

MOST SAY CHARGES NOT IMPEACHABLE

What Will Happen In The House?
IMPEACHMENT
32%

COMPROMISE
50%

MATTER WILL BE DROPPED
11%

By 64 percent to 30 percent, those polled say they want their member of Congress to vote against the articles of impeachment approved by the Judiciary Committee.

And most Americans want Congress to pay attention to public opinion when it votes this week. Sixty-two percent say Congress should pay a lot of attention to what the majority of Americans think about impeachment when voting on it.

Most Americans, 66 percent, don't think the charges against President Clinton are serious enough to warrant impeachment and removal from office. In fact, 63 percent believe impeachment is too harsh a punishment for what he's done.


How Should Your Rep. Vote?
FOR IMPEACHMENT
30%

AGAINST
64%


And majorities believe the president committed perjury and obstructed justice. However, even among the nearly two-thirds who believe Mr. Clinton committed perjury in his answers to the grand jury, less than half say the charges against Mr. Clinton are serious enough to warrant impeachment and removal.

Reinforcing the fact that many Americans do not think the president's actions warrant impeachment is the desire for an alternative punishment. When asked specifically about another punishment, like censure, 57 percent said they would favor it, an increase since the election.


Should Congress Censure Clinton?
YES
57%

NO
35%


Half of those polled over the weekend say they watched live coverage of last week's impeachment debate, but only 12 percent claimed they watched more than half of it. This lack of attentiveness to the historic debate and vote before the House Judiciary Committee is revealed in what people think the impeachment process involves.

When asked if a vote of impeachment by the House would immediately result in the removal of President Clinton from office, 54 percent answered correctly that it would not, but 30 percent incorrectly said it would, and another 16 percent admitted they didn't know. [This is an improvement, up from 46 percent who knew what impeachment meant in early October.]

However, a person's knowledge of the definition of impeachment has little to do with that person's preference for or against it. Both those who know and those who don't know what impeachment means oppose impeaching Mr. Clinton.

CLINTON AND THE REPUBLICANS
Most Americans remain dubious about the actions and motivations of the House Judiciary Committee. By 51 percent to 38 percent, they disapprove of the way the Judiciary Committee has handled the impeachment inquiry. A somewhat higher percentage approve of the decision to send the articles of impeachment to the full House for a vote. Forty-four percent approve, 50 percent do not.

Many people see Republican motivations negatively. By 62 percent to 29 percent, the public thinks Republicans who voted for impeachment did so mostly because they want to damage President Clinton and the Democrats—not because the charges are serious enough to warrant impeachment.

As for the president, his approval rating remains high, though his personal ratings [which had improved at the time of the election] are mixed. Sixty-seven percent approve of the way he is doing his job as president. But only 42 percent have an overall favorable opinion of him. Forty-three percent of opinions are unfavorable. Those results are much like the mixed favorable ratings in CBS News polls conducted through much of the fall.

Unlike some of the president's Congressional critics, many in the public say they don't need any more statements from him about this matter. Fifty-five percent are satisfied with Mr. Clinton's statements about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and the investigation. Thirty-nine percent think he still needs to say more.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 653 adults interviewed by telephone December 13, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.
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