CBS Poll: Truth And Consequences

In a week full of new developments about testimony in the independent counsel's investigation into President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, most Americans believe the president did have an affair with the former White House intern, according to the latest CBS News poll. But they are divided on one critical point: whether Mr. Clinton encouraged her to lie under oath about it.
Still, nearly half the public regard the allegations overall as of little or no importance to the nation. Most would not favor resignation or impeachment, even if the charges were true.

Did Clinton Have An Affair With Lewinsky?


Seventy-one percent of those polled say that the claims that the president had an affair with Lewinsky are probably true. Twenty-two percent say they are probably not true. As for whether or not he encouraged her to lie under oath about the affair, there is an even split—47 percent say that is probably true, while 46 percent say it is probably not true.

What Happened And Whom Should We Believe?

Did Clinton Encourage Lewinsky To Lie?


While these results indicate tat many Americans doubt the president's denials, President Clinton gets comparatively high scores on the likelihood that he will be a credible witness when he testifies to the grand jury next month. More see him as a credible witness than see either Lewinsky or Linda Tripp, who first brought the charges to the attention of the independent counsel, that way.

Only 7 percent of people expressed a favorable opinion of Lewinsky. Forty-one percent held an unfavorable opinion of her. Evaluations of Tripp were similar. In interviews conducted after Tripp completed her testimony to the grand jury and made her first public statement, 8 percent viewed her favorably, 35 percent unfavorably.

How Much Does It Matter?

Important To Know If Clinton Encouraged Lewinsky To Lie?


The public continues to make a clear distinction between sex and perjury in the White House, both in assessing the likelihood that each occurred and in determining the public's need to know. By more than two to one, Americans say it is not important for the public to know what the relationship was between the president and Lewinsky. But by similar margins they say it is important for the public to know if the president encouraged her to lie about that relationship.

Clinton's Job Performance


Overall, 26 percent ate the allegations as of great importance to the nation, 24 percent say they are of some importance, while 48 percent describe them as of little or no importance. While this poll suggests that the public is taking the charges more seriously than they did last week, these percentages closely resemble those in similar questions asked earlier this year.

This week's developments have not harmed Mr. Clinton's overall high-approval rating. Sixty-one percent of those interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday approve of the way he is doing his job as president, little change from the 64 percent approval rating in a CBS News poll conducted last week.

Forty-three percent have an overall favorable opinion of the president, down from 50 percent a week ago. But similar to the favorable ratings of him recorded in polls from March through June. In this poll, 35 percent are unfavorable.

What may matter in the long run is what the public thinks should happen if all charges are true and the president did try to obstruct justice. For the most part, the public does not seem to want the president punished. Although 38 percent say if the claims are true Mr. Clinton should resign or Congress should begin impeachment proceedings, 56 percent say they would be content with either an apology from Mr. Clinton or just dropping the case.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 988 adults interviewed by telephone July 28-29, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.