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In a remarkable accomplishment for President Bill Clinton, a CBS News poll conducted Wednesday night shows three-quarters of the public now saying they approve of the job he is doing as President. This is the same approval rating people gave the President immediately after his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, the first time a President has retained such a high approval rating as the immediate bounce he usually receives after that speech. It is also his highest approval level ever.

In interviews conducted with respondents previously interviewed Saturday through Monday, personal evaluations of Bill Clinton, which had plummeted after claims last week that he had an affair with a former White House intern and then urged her to lie about it under oath, have rebounded. In the day after his State of the Union message, evaluations are back to pre-scandal levels. Now, 48 percent hold a favorable view of Mr. Clinton, and 31 percent an unfavorable view.

Assessments of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are also up, as she goes on the offensive defending the President, though favorable ratings of her had risen even before the State of the Union address. More people now than ever before in our poll, both male and female, currently hold a favorable view of her. Traditionally, there is a gender gap on opinion of Hillary, with men much less favorable than women.

OPINION OF BILL CLINTON 1/28 1/26
FAVORABLE: 48% 34%
NOT FAVORABLE: 31% 36%
OPINION OF HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
FAVORABLE: 52% 45%
NOT FAVORABLE: 24% 27%


Tuesday night's address made a big impact on people's opinions. Almost four in 10 of those who disapproved of Mr. Clinton's job performance before the speech now approve. Those who watched the speech are much more likely than those who did not to both approve of Mr. Clinton's handling of his job and to have a favorable opinion of him. Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to have watched the speech.

And the speech's showcasing of Mr. Clinton's role as leader of the country seems to have also changed people's minds about his governing ability. Initial doubts about Clinton's ability to govern effectively in the wake of this scandal have subsided for now. Currently, 56 percrent think this situation will not interfere with his governing ability, up from 38 percent over the weekend.

WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE TO THE SCANDAL

However, the public is still dubious about the overall White House response to the charges. By 46 percent to 36 percent, people think the White House has made things worse, not better, in its response to the current scandal. And less than half agree with the first lady's charge that there is a right-wing conspiracy to destroy Bill Clinton.

IS THERE A RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY TO DESTROY CLINTON?
YES 43%
NO 48%

Still, the public feels the president's enemies have a hand in the current scandal. By 53 percent to 37 percent, Americans blame his political enemies, not Mr. Clinton himself, for he current situation. And by 54 percent to 34 percent, they think Kenneth Starr is conducting a partisan rather than an impartial investigation. Both those numbers are up from what they were before the State of the Union address.

JUDGING THE TRUTH OF THE CLAIMS

There is little change in the public's opinion about the truth of the claims of an affair and suborning of perjury. As before, charges of an affair are more believable to people than are charges that the President lied or encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie.

People are more likely to think Bill Clinton had an affair than not (by 42 percent to 28 percent), but are less sure about whether he encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie (26 percent say he probably did, 37 percent say he probably did not). When asked directly about whether they believe Bill Clinton's denials, the public is still evenly split, just as they are evenly split on the question of whether he shares the same moral values as most Americans.

THE MEDIA'S ROLE

The media get high marks from the public on its coverage of the situation. More than two-thirds say the media have done a good job, and three-quarters characterize the media coverage as responsible. Still, 62 percent think too much time has been spent on these stories. While measures taken in the days before the State of the Union address showed a slight backlash against the media, the public's currently sanguine views of the President and his governing ability seem to have tempered these feelings for now.


THE SITUATION IN IRAQ

As the standoff in Iraq continues, by 75 percent to 18 percent, the public would favor the US bombing targets in Iraq if it continues to restrict United Nations weapons inspections.

©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

This poll was conducted among 1,044 adults by telephone January 28, 1998, who had been previously interviewed January 24-26. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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