The country's 13-month odyssey ended Friday with the Senate's vote not to convict President Clinton of the perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the articles of impeachment, allowing him to finish his term in office.
In a CBS News poll conducted after the vote, the public expressed its approval of that outcome by 64 percent to 34 percent. This matches the two-to-one margin seen in polls throughout the year on the question of whether or not Mr. Clinton should remain in office.
SENATE VOTE TO ACQUIT CLINTON
But even though the vote garnered public support, the evaluation of the Senate's handling of the trial remains negative, and most Americans view both the impeachment process and the rationale for most senators' final votes as mostly partisan. And six in 10 are skeptical that this whole matter is really over.
Retrospectively, a majority of respondents say they think things should have never even gone this far.
When asked if the country would have been better off if the investigation of the charges surrounding the Monica Lewinsky affair had never started, 62 percent of Americans agree, and 34 percent disagree.
ACTIONS NOT SEEN AS SERIOUS ENOUGH TO WARRANT REMOVAL
Since independent counsel Kenneth Starr's impeachment referral to Congress last fall, about two-thirds of Americans have said that the president's actions were not serious enough to warrant his being impeached and removed from office. Now, after the vote, 62 percent say the charges weren't serious enough to warrant conviction and removal. A total of 36 percent believe they were.
In fact, only 22 percent of the public say they ever thought that President Clinton would be removed from office. And only 32 percent think the president is both guilty of the charges and deserved removal. A total of 20 percent say Mr. Clinton is not guilty (up from 13 percent last week), while 46 percent say that he is guilty but still should not have been removed from office.
IMPEACHMENT FALLOUT FOR CONGRESS
The perceived partisan nature of the whole impeachment matter continues to affect evaluations of the Senate. Although the public approves of the final outcome, its evaluation of the Senate's handling of the impeachment trial is clearly negative. A total of 39 percent approve of the way the Senate has handled the trial, and 56 percent disapprove.
Last week, approval of the Senate's handling of the trial was even lower. But after Friday's final vote, many Democrats became more positive towards the Senate, helping the overall public assessment. In fact, Republican approval of the Senate's handling of the trial dropped after the vote. Last week, 51 percent of Republicans approved of the way the Senate had been handling the trial. With the vote to acquit, now only 31 percent of Republicans do.
There was also increased Democratic support for Congress after the acquittal vote. The overall job approval of Congress, which dropped last week to 36 percent, rebounded to 46 percent after the vote, which is about the level it had been for the past year. The improvement in Congress's job rating in the last week is mostly due to increased Democratic approval. Unlike many recent polls, in this poll, there is little difference in the way Republicans and Democrats rate Congress.
People believe partisan politics affected Senators on both sides of the aisle. A total 74 percent think that when it came time to vote, most Senators (Democrats and Republicans alike) voted based on politics and what was best for their party, and not based on what they believed was the right thing to do.
In evaluating the overall impeachment process, by 78 percent to 19 percent, people say it was mostly politics, not the investigation of possible crimes.
WILL THEY BE ABLE TO WORK TOGETHER NOW?
As Senators and the president made overtures to get back to the nation's business after the Senate vote, the public is not overwhelmingly optimistic about their ability to put things behind them. Half say that the two Congressional parties will be able to put this whole matter behind them and work together now on most important issues. But 43 percent say they won't. And mixed expectations are the same when it comes to future interactions between the president and Congressional Republicans.
The public is clearly pessimistic about whether the matter really is over. Six in 10 expect that there is "still more to come." A total of 35 percent say they think the matter is really over, while 61 percent say they don't.
But the vote has brought at least some relief. In fact, when asked for one word to describe how they feel now that the trial is over, one on three simply answered that they were "relieved." A total of 18 percent said they were "happy," while 14 percent said they were "sad" or "disappointed."
Perhaps another indication of the public's desire to end the matter is that support for censure of the president has diminished. Before the Senate vote, a clear majority said they would have wanted their Senators to vote to censure Mr. Clinton if that was an option. Now, only 46 percent think the Senate should have censured President Clinton for what he has done.
In assessing the impact of the trial, just 36 percent believe the trial had a serious, negative impact on the country. In early January before the trial began, there were much more fearful expectations. By about two to one, people thought the trial would have serious effects.
HOW THE PRESIDENT STANDS
President Clinton has enjoyed high job approval ratings throughout this political ordeal, reaching a record high approval rating of 73 percent immediately after delivering his State of the Union message in January 198, days after the Lewinsky scandal broke. It has remained in the mid-60 range in the intervening months. In fact, just as happened after the House voted to impeach the President in December, in the wake of Friday's vote, Mr. Clinton has once again matched his record high. In this poll, 73 percent approve of the way he is handling his job.
One of the reasons for these record levels of public support is the astonishingly high marks Mr. Clinton receives from those in his own party -- a level of support presidents can rarely expect. In this poll, more than nine in 10 Democrats say they approve of the way Mr. Clinton is handling his job.
But the positive job ratings go beyond party loyalty. The public continues to believe that President Clinton can withstand this type of scandal and still do an effective job as president. In polls over the last year, more than two-thirds of the public have said he can. With the trial now over, that figure has risen to 74 percent, a new high.
A third of Friday's poll respondents said they had watched or listened to President Clinton's statement shortly after the Senate vote. By a margin of more than three to one, those who heard his statement are satisfied and don't think he needs to say more.
And even though one of the articles of impeachment cited the president for lying under oath, the majority of Americans (58 percent) still say Mr. Clinton can be trusted to keep his word as president. Even about half of those who think he is guilty say he still can be trusted.
Throughout this process, most Americans opposed a Clinton resignation. Looking back now, only 31 percent say it would have been better for the country if the president had taken that step at some point in the process. Despite the last 13 months, 65 percent say that would not have been better for the country.
This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 926 adults interviewed by telephone February 12, 1999 after the Senate voted. Saturday's poll respondents were originally interviewed in two polls conducted January 30-February 1 and February 7, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.