Americans Weigh In On Hillary

Shovels used in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Flight 93 National Memorial, are lined up on a table before the event Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Shanksville, Pa. Plans are for the memorial to be dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Yes, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is a polarizing figure - but even her opponents admit she has some good qualities, according to a CBS News poll. Should she run for president? Maybe. But if she were to win, her supporters and her detractors both think that she - and not her ex-President husband - would be the one in charge.

Do most Americans have a favorable or unfavorable view of the former First Lady? More immediately say their opinion is unfavorable than favorable. That question gives respondents the explicit option of saying they are undecided or don't know enough about her, and a larger percentage than usual, 44 percent, take it, suggesting that some people may be reconsidering their views in response to the publicity surrounding "Living History," her new book. But when those who are undecided are asked how they lean, more people overall are favorable towards Mrs. Clinton than are unfavorable.

What do people like about Hillary Rodham Clinton? More than three in four Americans, or 76 percent, say she is highly intelligent. More than eight in ten, or 83 percent, say she works hard. More than seven in 10, or 73 percent, think she has strong qualities of leadership. Even majorities of those who have overall unfavorable opinions of Hillary Clinton say she has these qualities.

In addition, a majority overall believes she cares about people like them; but most of those with generally unfavorable views disagree.

There are other areas where the public overall likes what it sees. Seventy-four percent now approve of the way she handled her job as First Lady. That is higher than it was for most of the time she was First Lady. Her approval rating did rise almost to that level in January 1998, as revelations about the President's relationship with Monica Lewinsky surfaced.
The public also sees her as a good role model for professional women, but is less likely to say she is a good role model for wives. Married women are evenly divided on whether she is a good role model for them.

The public is divided on how she's doing her job as senator from New York. Thirty-two percent think she is doing an excellent or good job, and 27 percent say she is doing a fair or poor job. Even more, 41 percent, aren't sure how to evaluate the way she is doing her current job.

But even many of her opponents give a positive nod to how she handled her job as mother to Chelsea. Overall nearly two-thirds say she did an excellent or good job there.

Just under one in four say they're not sure how good a job she did as a mother - and most of those are people who have an unfavorable view of her overall.

Perhaps the major weakness for the former First Lady is the public doubt about her honesty. When asked specifically about what she says regarding her husband and Monica Lewinsky in her book, "Living History," 44 percent, of Americans say she is either hiding something or lying. But even many of her detractors agree that whatever she is not telling is not something the public needs to know.

Less than four in ten think in general that Hillary Clinton has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life, a level many may not regard as an especially high standard. In fact, doubt about her honesty is the most frequently volunteered answer given by those who don't like her as the main reason for their negative feelings about Mrs. Clinton. Overall, 17 percent say she has less honesty than most people in public life.

In two other areas the public is nearly evenly divided. One has to do with truth-telling in the political world, and here negative views slightly outnumber positive ones. Forty-seven percent say that Clinton says what she thinks people want to hear; 41 percent thinks she says what she really believes.

The public is nearly evenly divided on whether people would have confidence in her ability to handle a crisis – 46 percent would be confident, while 44 percent would be uneasy.

There is yet another public divide on agreement with her policies - though by 46 percent to 34 percent, Americans say they agree with her position on most issues. In fact, by nearly two to one, women agree with her. Men, however, are divided, but one in five Americans aren't sure.

When asked specifically whether their own opinions of Clinton are based more on their assessment of her policies or on her as a person, the answer is more often personality than politics. Forty-four percent cite her qualities, good or bad, while 32 percent say it's her issue positions. There are differences here between her fans and her enemies. Those who like her overwhelmingly say it's because of her as a person, while those who don't like her are equally likely to say it's because of her polices as because of her personality.

There are some sizable group differences in opinions about Clinton. A majority of women have a favorable opinion of her, while a plurality of men have an unfavorable view. About three in four Democrats are favorable, but two thirds of Republicans are not. Those under 30 and over 65 are her biggest fans. But a majority of her own age group, those aged 45-64, is negative. Like the Democratic Party, she is more popular in the Northeast and West than in the Midwest or South.

Sixty-one percent of the public expects that Clinton will run for president, either in 2004 or 2008. But they are divided as to whether or not she should (and it's not surprising that those who like her think she should, while those who don't like her think she shouldn't).

Among Democrats, 58 percent think she should run, 30 percent say she should not. When it comes to whether or not she will, Republicans are somewhat surer it will happen. Sixty-five percent of them say she will run, compared with 56 percent of Democrats.

Whatever happens, should she win the presidency, there is little doubt about whether or not she will be in charge. By nearly six to one, Americans think she and not her husband will be the one in charge.

In the last few weeks, Clinton has been interviewed in print, on radio and television. Even after that, nearly two-thirds of the country still has a question they would like to ask her.

Two topics stand out - her relationship with her husband, a question area 22 percent want an answer in, and her future plans, queried by 14 percent, as senator and as a possible presidential candidate. Her opponents are especially interested in her relationship with her husband, with many of them asking "Why did you stay with him?" Or sometimes "Why in the hell did you put up with him?"

Fewer want to ask about the scandals of the Clinton years, although those who do cite Whitewater, the Rose law firm papers, and even Vince Foster. Seven percent have policy questions for her, but in that group Medicare and help for the poor are most often mentioned.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 841 adults, interviewed by telephone June 12-13, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Sampling error for sub-groups may be higher.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.