CBS Poll: Starr Gets Low Marks

In the three days since the public release of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress, many aspects of public opinion appear to have stabilized, with continued positive evaluations of President Clinton's job performance and continued concerns about his morality, according to the latest CBS News-New York Times poll.
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Fifty-seven pecent favor censuring the president for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but at this point in time, majorities continue to oppose his resignation and think impeachment hearings are not yet necessary.

And the the public continues to be troubled by the Starr investigation, which most Americans have described as "partisan" and not impartial.

Is Starr probe worth the time, effort and money?


At least for now, the public is not ready for resigation or impeachment. Even among the 61 percent who believe Mr. Clinton asked Monica Lewinsky to lie under oath about their relationship, half say it would be better for the country if he remained in office to finish his term.

Mirroring the president's high job approval rating, a majority also says Mr. Clinton can still be an effective president.

The Starr report has gotten an enormous amount of public attention - both directly and indirectly, through news reports about it. Many, however, have concerns about the report's content and fairness.

Half describe the report itself as one-sided. Thirty-three percent think the report is fair and balanced.

There is also criticism of the explicit nature of the report's content. Sixty-five percent say the inclusion of graphic sexual details was inappropriate. Fifty-nine percent object to Congress releasing those details to the public. [An even higher percentage of women object to that.]

Begin impeachment hearings


And 59 percent say Starr included those details mostly to embarrass the president and not to prove perjury.

As of now, the public is reacting to a single report which only contains information regarding the Lewinsky matter. And now, most do not think the investigation so far justifies the time, effort and money spent.

Sixty-eight percent say Starr's investigation hasn't been worth it. Even 45 percent of Republicans don't think it has been worth it.

Over the past few days, public approval of the way Congress is handling its job has been at its highest levels ever in the CBS News-New York Times Poll. Now, 56 percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job, while 32 percent disapprove. Even a majority of Democrats give the Republican-controlled Congress a positive approval rating.

Congress job approval


Given this unusually high public approval rating, Congress clearly has an opportunity to maintain its support if it handles the Starr report and any actions against the president in a fair and non-partisan way.

The risk is that when Americans feel that Congress is engaging in partisan bickering, approval of Congress almost always suffers. And for now, many Americans don't think Republicans and Democrats could work together if hearings are held.

Another perpetual problem for Congress is gridlock and public perception that Congress can't get its work done. By more than 2-1, people think the scandal is taking up so much of the president and Congress's time that it is preventing other work from getting one.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,813 adults interviewed by telephone September 12-14, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The margin of error for sub-samples is higher.