CBS News Poll: Clinton Riding High

President Clinton continues to score high with the public - he has a 66 percent approval rating in a CBS News Poll conducted Sunday.

While the president's score is not as high as his 72 percent rating last week, his favorable rating is higher than it was before accusations surfaced that he had an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then encouraged her to lie about it.

The public is willing to give Mr. Clinton time to respond to the charges, something he has indicated he would do eventually. Only 19 percent want him to say more now about the allegations. Seventy-six percent are satisfied to wait until the investigation into the allegations is completed.

A PRIVATE MATER

Americans continue to believe that this situation is a private, not a public matter. Sixty-two percent describe the situation as a private matter that has to do with Mr. Clinton's personal life; 29 percent see it as a public matter that has to do with his performance as president.

The percentage who think this is a matter of great importance to the country continues to decline, down to 25 percent in this poll. And most Americans do not think this will interfere with his ability to do his job effectively.

KENNETH STARR

Negative feelings about independent counsel Kenneth Starr and his investigation continue to grow. Only 10 percent have a favorable opinion of Starr; 29 percent have an unfavorable opinion. By more than two to one (55 percent to 26 percent), the public thinks Starr's investigation has been a partisan attempt to damage Bill Clinton, not an impartial investigation to find out if anything illegal occurred. Even Republicans are divided on whether or not Starr is impartial.

THE MEDIA

While a majority say the news media have generally done a good job covering the story, one in five surveyed for the poll volunteer that it is the media coverage that bothers them most about the entire matter. In the last week, the percentage following the story very closely has slid from 32 percent to 28 percent. Still, three-quarters continue to follow the story somewhat closely.

LYING AND SEX

When asked directly about the president's response to the charges of an affair, nearly three in four think he is hiding something or actually lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Forty-six percent, slightly more than in previous CBS News polls, say they think the claim he had an affair with her is probably true. The younger people are, the more likely they are to think he had the affair and is lying.

But many, regardless of age, seem to be in favor of presidential privacy this month. Only 28 percent overall say the president is hiding something the public needs to know. And there is an even division on whether or not it is necessary for the President to be completely truthful when questioned in public about his sexual conduct. However, there are marked regonal differences - only in the South do a majority of people believe it is necessary for Mr. Clinton to be forthright on these matters. In the Northeast and North-Central parts of the United States, majorities think it is not necessary for him to be completely truthful about his sex life.

However, in principle, Americans reject lying. Only 26 percent think it is sometimes justified to lie, and only 33 percent say lying is sometimes necessary. People in the South are less likely than to think lying is ever justified than those in other parts of the country.

Most Americans - 68 percent - say they know people who have committed adultery by cheating on their spouses. This high level of awareness extends to both men and women, young and old, and Republicans and Democrats. So most Americans are not surprised by allegations of adultery among public officials. In fact, only 14 percent think more public officials commit adultery now than in the past. Seventy-six percent - across the board - say there are just more media reports about it.

This poll was conducted among a nation-wide random sample of 786 adults, interviewed by telephone February 8, 1998. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points.