The American public continues to oppose a formal impeachment inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee, and a majority disapproves of the way the committee has been handling the whole matter. It is unclear if and how this issue will affect voters' choices for Congress this fall. And many don't yet know how the full impeachment and trial process works.
When asked to look ahead to a possible inquiry, 58 percent think the committee would not be able to work together in a fair and non-partisan manner. On both of these committee questions, more people say they are criticizing the majority (Republican members) more than Democrats for their negative assessments.
When asked about the scope of an impeachment inquiry, the public is almost evenly divided. Forty-four percent think any inquiry should be limited only to the charges detailed in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky matter. Forty-five percent say it should include other matters, such as Whitewater and 1996 campaign fundraising activities.
However, supporters and opponents of impeachment have more definite views. A large majority of those who favor an inquiry think it should be broadened to include other matters, while a majority of opponents say the inquiry should be limited.
THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
A vote for an impeachment inquiry appears equally as likely to have a positive impact as a negative one on a representative's chances of being re-elected on Nov. 3.
Among all registered voters, 21 percent claim they would be more likely to vote to re-elect their representative if he or she voted to open an impeachment inquiry. A majority of these voters are Republican. Twenty-six percent of registered voters say they would be less likely to do that. A majority of these voters are Democratic. The balance is similar for those registered voters who say they are definitely going to vote this year.
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The figures about the impact of the scandal aren't significantly different among those who say they will definitely vote and say they have voted in both 1996 and 1994. While that group is more Republican than all registered votersÂ—favoring Republican House candidates over Democratic ones by 49 percent to 43 percent in the generic House ballot questionÂ—the net impact of a vote for an impeachment inquiry would be almost negligible. A nearly equal percentage say a vote for an inquiry would make them more likely to vote to re-elect as say that would make them less likely to vote to re-elect.
On many questions about this matter, opinions have changed little in the last few months. In this poll, 63 percent approve of the way Mr. Clinton is handling his job as President. Opinion of him as an individual is evenly divided: 39 percent favorable to 40 percent not favorable, as it mostly has been since the Starr report was sent to Congress.
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One indication of how fixed opinions may be are responses to questions about whether people might change their mind about Mr. Clinton resigning or being impeached. On both of those questions, more than four in five say their minds are ade up. And that applies equally to those who either favor or oppose resignation and those who either think the charges are serious enough to warrant the president's removal from office or think they're not.
Sixty-seven percent of Americans say they have talked about the Lewinsky matter in the last week with friends, family, or co-workers. Eight percent say they have communicated their views to their member of Congress or the media.
Those who have been more vocal about the situation are somewhat more supportive of resignation and impeachment than the public overall, though majorities in both groups still oppose either outcome. Even a majority of likely voters oppose an impeachment inquiry.
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The most recent release of documents from the Starr submission to Congress generated less public attention than either the report itself or the president's televised grand jury testimony.
Only 7 percent say they had heard or read a lot about the contents of the taped conversations between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. Another 27 percent report they'd heard or read something.
Comparatively, even before the actual Aug. 17 broadcast of the president's testimony, nearly half said they had heard or read at least something about what was in that testimony.
The release of the Tripp-Lewinsky transcripts has done little to change what were already negative opinions about both women. And these negative opinions have only risen since the summer. Now, 63 percent have an unfavorable view of Lewinsky, while only 4 percent are favorable. For Linda Tripp, unfavorable opinions outnumber favorable ones 55 percent to 3 percnt.
WHAT IS IMPEACHMENT?
The last Congressional impeachment hearings took place nearly a quarter century ago. So it may not be surprising that less than half the public knows for certain that for President Clinton to actually be removed from office, the process takes more than an impeachment vote in the House.
Thirty-three percent incorrectly claimed that an impeachment vote in the House automatically would remove Mr. Clinton from office. Another 21 percent admitted they didn't know. Only 46 percent got the answer right - stating that a vote to impeach in the House would not automatically remove Mr. Clinton from office.
When it came to a direct Watergate comparison, a majority [56 percent] thought the charges against Mr. Clinton were less serious than those made against President Nixon. Still, more than a third said they were either as serious [27 percent] or even more serious [9 percent] than the charges against Mr. Nixon.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 902 adults interviewed by telephone October 3-4, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The sampling error for sub-samples is higher.
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