Details of CBS Poll on Clinton Crisis


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For now, President Bill Clinton's stature among the American public remains exceptionally high. In the latest CBS News Poll conducted Sunday, the president retains record-level approval and personal favorability ratings.

Seventy-two percent of the public approves of the way Clinton is handling his job; 51 percent say they have a favorable opinion of him.


A key reason for the president's invulnerability so far may be the fact that people are twice as likely to say the allegations of an affair and any subsequent lying involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky are private, not public, matters.

Another factor is the public's belief that partisan politics are to blame for much of this scandal. And people are now as likely to say frenzied media coverage is the thing that bothers them most about this situation as to say Clinton's lying bothers them most.

PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC MATTERS

Many Americans feel the current situation involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is none of their business. When asked how they view this situation, 61 percent say it is a private matter. Less than a third believe it is a public matter having to do with his job as president.

How one views this matter directly impacts how one feels about President Clinton. Those who describe this situation as a public matter are split 47 percent-48 percent on the President's job approval, whereas those who see it as a private matter give Clinton an 85 percent approval rating.

And 60 percent of those who see it as a public matter believe it will interfere with his ability to do his job effectively as President. Only 24 percent of those who see it as a private matter say this.

UNDER ATTACK FROM MEDIA AND PARTISANS

The public's growing distaste for these stories, and subsequent rallying around the President, appear to be due in part to a backlash against the media and a negative reaction to partisan attacks by his political enemies and independent counsel Kenneth Starr's office.

Now, equal numbers - 18 percent each - mention media coverage and their belief that Bill Clinton lied as the one thing that bothers them most about the current scandal. Last week, only 10 percent volunteered the media.

The numbers of those who described media coverage of these stories as responsible and said the media has done a good job have had double-digit declines in just four days, although majorities still give the media positive marks on both counts.

And the number of those saying the media spent too much time on stories involving the President and onica Lewinsky has jumped 11 points in the last four days. Still, public attention to this story is high. Eight in 10 say they are following it closely - 32 percent say very closely.

In addition to media excesses, the public continues to believe the President's political enemies, not Clinton himself, are to blame for creating the current situation (by 56 percent to 31 percent).

People also see Kenneth Starr's investigation as mostly partisan (55 percent) or not impartial (30 percent). More people now have an opinion of Starr. Last week, opinions of him were more than two to one unfavorable. Now, that margin is almost three to one.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who last week claimed that a "right-wing conspiracy" was out to destroy Bill Clinton, maintains a favorable rating of more than two to one: 52 percent have a favorable opinion of her; 22 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion of the first lady.

GOVERNMENT GOES ON

Only 28 percent of the public believe this situation is a matter of great importance to the nation - a number that has declined in one week. Forty-three percent say it is of little or no importance - another indication that people view it as separate from the business of governing. And the highest number yet - 60 percent - feel the scandal will not interfere with Clinton's ability to effectively do his job as President.

Forty-three percent think Congress should begin impeachment proceedings or the President should resign if he either obstructed justice or lied himself. Forty-seven percent believe either the matter should be dropped altogether or Clinton should apologize if the allegations turn out to be true.

Opinion of Congress usually suffers when it is perceived as partisan, and the lack of partisan attacks against the president so far seem to have benefited Congress.

As most Republican Congressional leaders have remained quiet during Bill Clinton's recent troubles, the image of Congress has improved.

Fifty-two percent of the public approves of the way Congress is handling its job - the highest Congressional approval rating ever recorded in the CBS News/New York Times poll.

INFORMATION FLOW AND BELIEVABILITY

While the public is split on whether the White House's handling of recent charges has made the situation better or worse, most Americans agree with the White House's current plan of action: to wait until the investigation is completed to say more about the allegations. Seventry-eight percent say they are satisfied to wait to hear more. Only 17 percent want Bill Clinton to say more now.

Bill Clinton is seen as more believable than Monica Lewinsky - although majorities think both are hiding something or lying. And only 27 percent of Americans think Clinton is hiding something the public needs to know.

People continue to believe the charges that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky are probably true. But they also believe it is probably not true tht he encouraged her to lie about it.

Impressions of Monica Lewinsky are much more negative than positive. Half say they do not know enough about her to have an opinion, and 18 percent say they are neutral toward her.

IRAQ

Three-quarters of the public continue to support launching air strikes against Iraq if the Iraqi government does not cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors there. However, by 74 percent to 23 percent, Americans say it is necessary for the United States to get the support of its allies before launching any air strikes. Sixty-eight percent approve of Clinton's handling of the situation in Iraq.

The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 620 adults by telephone February 1, 1998. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.