CBS Poll: Tapes Make Little Impact

More than half of all Americans report that they watched at least some of President Clinton's videotaped testimony before independent counsel Kenneth Starr's grand jury, according to the latest CBS News poll.

Those who watched the videotape had mixed reactions to what they saw. And assessments of what should happen next changed little after the broadcast of the tape.

CBS News called back 696 respondents Monday night who had previously been interviewed before the tape aired.

Among the 52 percent of call-back respondents who said they watched the testimony:

  • Sixty-three percent said Mr. Clinton mostly tried to avoid answering questions he was asked. Thirty-two percent think he mostly answered the questions. In fact, the top mention of what "one thing" stood out in people's minds about the videotape was the president's "evasiveness."

  • Viewers were divided on whether he cooperated enough in answering questions.

  • Fifty-three percent said it was appropriate for Mr. Clinton to refuse to answer specific details about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Less than half [44 percent] thought it was appropriate for the independent counsel's lawyers to be asking such specific sexual questions.

  • Only 21 percent said they thought the tapes were more damaging to Mr. Clinton than they had expected. Thirty-four percent thought the tape was less damaging than expected.
Those who watched the president's videotape were people who were more critical of President Clinton to begin with. Sixty-two percent of those who disapproved of the president's job performance in polling over the weekend watched the tapes. That is compared with 48 percent of those who approved. Overall, 62 percent said the tape had no effect on their opinion of the president. Twenty-nine percent said the videotape made them think worse of him. But most of those already had an unfavorable opinion of him before seeing the tape.

TAPE RELEASE AND BROADCAST

What Should Congress Do Now?
CENSURE PRESIDENT
60%

IMPEACH HIM
35%

CLINTON RESIGN
38%

By more than two to one, Americans continued to say it was not necessary for the House Judiciary Committee to have released the taped testimony, just as they did before the tape became publicly available.

People were not as critical of the news organizations that decided to broadcast the tape in its entirety, but opinion was still split on this question. Forty-seven percent thought broadcasting the entire tape was the right thing to do, while 47 percent said it was wrong.

Those who watched the tape had a more favorable reaction to the broadcast. Thirty-seven percent of those who watched still said they didn't think the entire tape should have been broadcast.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NOW?

Clinton's Job Rating
APPROVE
68%

DISAPPROVE
30%

In comparisons between the opinions of respondents before and after the much-awaited videotape, there was virtually no effect—at least immediately after its broadcast—on opinions about what actions should be taken now. A majority still favored the least serious action—censure. Less than four in 10 favored either resignation or impeachment hearings.

Also, expectations about what will happen in the future remained the same. A majority said neither resignation nor impeachment will be the final outcome.


Opinion Of Clinton
FAVORABLE
44%

UNFAVORABLE
43%

Seventy-two percent of respondents believed even before the videotape that President Clinton probably committed perjury in his August 17th grand jury testimony. That perception did not change much after viewing the questions and answers in his testimony. Sixty-seven percent last night said he probably did.

While perjury is a central issue in terms of the president's testimony, more than half continued to say it is understandable that the president would commit perjury himself, or encourage Monica Lewinsky to lie under oath, if the subject was their sexual behavior.

And even if perjury is proven, people still favor less serious action: 53 percent would want Mr. Clinton to apologize or the matter dropped; 43 percent would favor resignation or impeachment proceedings in that case.

CLINTON AS PRESIDENT
While there was almost no impact of the airing of the tape on the public's view of whether the president should resign or finish his term, more respondents gave the president a positive job rating when interviewed the second time. Last weekend, 59 percent said they approved of the way President Clinton was handling his job. Now, 68 percent of the same respondents said they approved. The size of the gain was similar among those who watched the tape and those who did not.

Also, about the same percentage [63 percent] continued to think Mr. Clinton can still be an effective president.

After the tape, there was an almost even division on whether the public had a favorable or unfavorable view of Mr. Clinton. Last weekend, among the same respondents, a slight majority viewed him unfavorably.

Opinions of Congress changed less. Half the re-interviewed respondents expressed their approval of the way Congress was handling its job over the weekend. Fifty-three percent did so Monday evening.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 696 adults interviewed by telephone September 21, 1998 after 7 p.m. The 696 adults were originally interviewed September 19-20, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The sampling error for sub-samples of videotape viewers and non-viewers is plus or minus five percentage points.
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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