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60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: First Families

Which president would give his daughter's date the toughest time? What is your idea of an ideal first family? Americans weigh in on this and more

Welcome to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll for December 2015. With the election of a new president less than one year away, this month's poll focuses on first families. Americans feel strongly about the concept that all of our citizens are considered equal under the law, but even in a democracy someone has to be first. In ancient Rome, Octavius rejected the title of emperor and became known as the "first citizen." General George Washington did the same and was celebrated as "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Over time the term extended to other family members, especially the first lady. Americans continue to be fascinated by the inhabitants of the White House even (or especially) when scandals or embarrassing behavior occurs. Despite those People Magazine moments, most members of extended first families do their best to represent their country well, especially when in office. What is your idea of an ideal first family? We look forward to your answer to this question and many others. And now the results.

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For four out of 10 Americans, an ideal presidential family would be relatable but flawed, 29 percent said admired and close to perfect, 18 percent said accomplished with a scandal or two, and four percent said a total mess. It would be nice to think of the president as being "one of us" but it is rarely the case. It takes a special kind of person to run and survive that political gauntlet; however, some of their family members often tend to reflect American society, warts and all.

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Nearly one in three Americans said that having an older relative with a stern manner and a heart of gold living at the White House would make a presidential family more likable to the American public, followed by having a mild medical condition for which it can raise awareness 24 percent, a friendly dog that occasionally bites reporters 18 percent and a child who is embarrassed by having to wear braces 13 percent. There's something here for everyone, who doesn't like older people, children, frisky dogs and worthy causes?

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Nearly one in four Americans chose the hard working self reliant pioneer family the Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie" as closest to the type of television family they would like to see in the White House. Next in order were the squeaky clean Cleavers from "Leave it to Beaver" 14 percent, the multi-dysfunctional but fun families from "Modern Family" 13 percent, the politically diverse Keatons from "Family Ties" 12 percent, the irreverent Griffins from "Family Guy" nine percent, "The Blackish" Johnsons got seven percent, and the "Fresh off the Boat" Huangs netted two percent. Seventeen percent said they did not know. People over 30 tended to favor the more traditional families like the Ingalls, Cleavers, and Keatons while those under 30 were more open-minded favoring the more flawed and irreverent characters from "Modern Family" and "Family Guy."

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Presidents have had relatives that have done some crazy things and a fairly small percentage of our respondents picked them from our list. For example, 11 percent picked visiting prostitutes in Thailand, something allegedly done by former President George W. Bush's brother, Neil. Ten percent picked receiving a pardon for a cocaine conviction and seven percent picked accepting money for presidential pardons, both activities associated with President Clinton's brother, Roger. Seven percent pick trading on the presidential name to sell beer and five percent pick lobbying for foreign governments, including Libya, which are both activities allegedly done by Billy Carter.

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If they were to witness safe but inappropriate behavior by a child of the president, an overwhelming eight out 10 Americans think the Secret Service should not keep it secret from the president and first lady and 16 percent think they should. Americans understand that the Secret Service's first obligation is complete loyalty to the president of the United States and that includes full disclosure of any and all information they have that can affect him and his family.

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If they were president and needed to educate their children, 48 percent of Americans would keep it private, 35 percent would go public, and 16 percent said they would keep it "in house." Nearly half of Americans -- including most every recent president -- lean toward private schools for their kids and the perceived better education and tighter security they might provide. More than a third of Americans would like to see a vote of confidence for public schools and only 16 percent would confine their kids to homeschooling. As it turns out the question of where to educate a child was not weighted by anyone's political affiliation. A consistent 48 percent of people whether identifying as Republicans, Democrats or Independents all chose private schools as the best choice.

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Twenty-seven percent said Target hit the bull's eye as the clothing store most appropriate for the children of U. S. presidents. Twenty-two percent went with the patriotic sounding American Eagle, 17 percent were on board with J. Crew, seven percent were Forever 21 and for another seven percent the solution was Hollister, only five percent chose Urban Outfitters and 14 percent said they did not know. Everyone was young once and most likely went through several style phases. Within reason, presidential kids probably get to choose clothes that fit their sense of style, except maybe at State Dinners.

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When it comes to choosing which president from the list would be the toughest when meeting their daughter's first date, 27 percent said Nixon's the one. Another 27 percent went with the father of twin daughters, George W. Bush, followed by the White House's current resident, Barack Obama 23 percent, Jimmy Carter 11 percent and Bill Clinton seven percent. Forty-one percent of Republicans thought W. would be even tougher than Tricky Dick (25 percent) and 34 percent of Democrats voted again for Obama being tougher than even Nixon 29 percent.

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A third of Americans think that the woman who had the most impact on U. S. society while serving as first lady was Eleanor Roosevelt. Each first lady had causes to champion, Michelle Obama (22 percent) has embraced healthy eating and exercise for children, Nancy Reagan (18 percent) just said no to drugs, Hillary Clinton (14 percent) chose health care, and Betty Ford (eight percent) stood up for women's rights and alcohol and substance abuse. Mrs. Roosevelt had the advantage of the longest tenure of any first lady and the opportunity to help Americans through two of our toughest challenges, the Depression and World War II.

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When it comes to first ladies with the best sense of style, Jackie Kennedy wins the election hands down with 44 percent followed by the stylish current first lady, Michelle Obama (28 percent), Nancy Reagan (seven percent), Laura Bush (six percent), Hillary Clinton (four percent) and Eleanor Roosevelt (four percent). The top two vote-getters were both married to young and charismatic Democratic presidents and not afraid to make a splash. Jackie took it to another level with her haute couture and sophistication.

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From the list of fictional first ladies, 15 percent of Americans chose Stockard Channing's Abbey Bartlet from "West Wing" as their favorite followed by Shirley MacLaine in "Guarding Tess" 13 percent, (semi-spoiler alert) Robin Wright in "House of Cards" 12 percent, Sigourney Weaver in "Dave" nine percent and again in "Political Animals" six percent and Jean Smart got eight percent for putting in a hard day's work in "24." Whether depicted as scheming Lady MacBeth's or paragons of virtue and decency, no fictional first lady role could be harder to play than the real thing.


This poll was conducted by telephone from October 5-8, 2015 among a random sample of 1,011 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers. The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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