CBS Poll: Proceed With Caution

Based on what they know right now-immediately prior to the release of the Starr report- Americans continue to reject the impeachment or resignation of President Clinton, according to the latest CBS News poll. And while most don't expect either of these scenarios, many are worried about the scandal's impact on the Clinton administration and on Congress.
Fifty-eight percent say, as things stand now, they prefer dropping the matter of resignation or impeachment. Just 21 percent favor resignation, and only 13 percent say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. On Thursday night, CBS News also asked what people expected would happen. Sixty-one percent predict the president would neither resign nor be impeached. Half of those who want to see Mr. Clinton resign or be impeached don't think either will happen.


What Should Happen Now?



As interviews were conducted for this poll, the public had not yet seen the contents of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report, and some of the charges being leveled against the president in the report were not public knowledge. So as of now, a decisive majority of Americans does not call for severe action. Even if it turns out that President Clinton is guilty of obstruction of justice and lying under oath, 48 percent would still favor his remaining in office. In that case, 47 percent would support impeachment or resignation.

Americans clearly are concerned about the potential upheaval that could come with the impeachment process or resignation. When asked what would be better for the country, by more than two to one, people continue to say it would be better for Mr. Clinton to remain in office.

What Will Happen Now?



Historically, Americans have been reluctant to impeach. Even when former President Richard Nixon's approval rating sunk to 30 percent in 1973, only a small percentage of the public supported Nixon's impeachment or resignation for a long time.

In contrast, Mr. Clinton's high job-approval rating puts him, at this stage, in a much more favorable position than Nixon. Over the three days of interviewing in this poll, Mr. Clinton's job approval remained stable at 60 percent.

The public is becoming increasingly worried over the impact of the scandal, and not just its impact on the president. Seventy-two percent now say it will have a serious impact on the Clinton administration.

Scandal's Effect On Congress, President?



Concern about the effect of the scandal on legislation and other work grew substantially on Wednesday and Thursday, after the report was sent to the House of Representatives. A majority thinks the scandal will take up so much of both the president and Congress' time that i will prevent most other work from being done. Twenty-nine percent expect it will take up time, but that other work will still get done, and 11 percent think it won't have much effect.

But while the scandal is a concern, it may also prove to be an opportunity for Congress. Congressional approval is now 49 percent, and there are indications that this rating rose in the three days of interviewing. In July, only 40 percent approved of the way Congress was handling its job. The current 49 percent approval rating was exceeded only in the days after the president's January State of the Union message, when both his and Congress' ratings soared.




Many Americans are not yet convinced that the independent counsel's report is fair and balanced, though perceptions about the report are more favorable than assessments of Starr's overall investigation have been. Forty-nine percent think the Starr report will be one-sided—41 percent think it will be fair. Whatever their expectation, most [60 percent] think the report should be released to the public.

Thursday's interviewing suggests some increase in support for censure as an option. Thursday, 52 percent favored Congressional censure—37 percent opposed it. There was no similar increase in support for resignation, however. By 67 percent to 28 percent, people still say it would be better for the country if President Clinton remained in office rather than resigned.

As the president continues his public apologies, there are indications the public might be becoming more satisfied with his statements about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Prior to Thursday, only half the public said they were satisfied. On Thursday, 58 percent expressed satisfaction with what he's said so far. Only 34 percent think he needs to say more.

As President Clinton vows to do "whatever it takes" to regain the public's trust, character issues still plague him. Only 31 percent think he shares the moral values of most Americans, and as many people have a unfavorable as have an favorable opinion of Mr. Clinton. However, in a question asked specifically about trust, more than alf of Americans continue to say that he can be trusted to keep his word as president.

The majority of registered voters don't think the scandal will affect their vote in the fall elections -- at least for now. Seventy-seven percent say it will have no impact on how they vote. Ten percent say it will make them more likely to vote Republican, while 8 percent say it will make them more likely to vote Democratic. Most potential voters are still expecting the candidates to be able to discuss issues beyond this scandal in their campaigns. While 36 percent think the scandal will prevent candidates from serious discussion of other issues, 58 percent say it won't.

Among those most likely to vote [37 percent of all adults], there is a fairly even division between the parties on the generic house ballot question. Forty-seven percent of those who voted in 1994 and claim they will definitely vote this fall say they will vote for Republican candidates for the House. Forty-six percent say they will vote Democratic. Men divide 52 percent to 41 percent Republican. Women 51 percent to 42 percent Democratic.

The first lady continues to have positive evaluations from the public, both from men and women. Her favorable rating rose in January after the scandal broke and has remained high since then—about two-to-one favorable. In this poll, 48 percent have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, while 23 percent are unfavorable. Men are favorable, as are both older and younger Americans. However, Republicans continue to give Mrs. Clinton negative ratings. Forty-six percent are Republicans hold an unfavorable opinion of her. Only 25 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Mrs. Clinton.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,132 adults interviewed by telephone September 8-10, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The error for sub-samples is higher.
Our Full Coverage
of this Ongoing Story