Bill Clinton's Image Suffers as Americans Criticize Pardon

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Public views Clinton as negatively as at any previous time

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A Gallup poll conducted Monday through Wednesday of this week shows the American public is highly critical of former president Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, and thinks the pardon was given in return for financial contributions to the Clintons rather than being made in the best interest of justice, as Clinton himself claimed. A majority of Americans agree that the criticism of Clinton since he left office has been warranted, and think the media have been fair in handling news about the former president. The public views Clinton as negatively now as at any time when he was in office. His favorable rating has fallen 15 points since December and is now at just 42%, while his current unfavorable rating of 55% is the highest Gallup has ever recorded for him.

Public Looks Unfavorably on Rich Pardon
President Clinton issued numerous pardons just before leaving office on January 20. While many raised eyebrows, perhaps the most controversial was the pardon of Marc Rich, a Wall Street financier who fled the U.S. in 1983 after being indicted for tax fraud and other crimes. Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, is a major contributor to the Democratic Party and gave large sums of money to the Clinton presidential library and Hillary Rodham Clinton's senatorial campaign.

Americans largely disapprove of Clinton's pardoning of Rich. According to the February 19-21 Gallup poll, 62% disapprove of the pardon, while only 20% approve (18% have no opinion on the matter). Moreover, most Americans -- 58% -- think the pardon was made in "return for financial contributions" rather than being made because Clinton "felt it was in the best interest of justice" (22%), as Clinton claimed in his New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday. Opinion is even more negative among those who have been following the controversy closely, as 74% disapprove of the pardon and 67% believe it was given in return for financial contributions.

The data show that the vast majority of Republicans (84%) disapprove of the pardon, and independents largely disapprove (61% disapprove, while 16% approve and 23% have no opinion). Democrats are essentially divided, with 42% approving and 41% disapproving. Democrats are also divided as to the motives of Clinton's pardon -- 39% think he did it in the interest of justice, 34% think he did it in return for financial contributions, and 27% do not have a firm opinion either way. Majorities of both Republicans and independents believe that Clinton granted the pardon in exchange for financial contributions.

Despite the strong majority disapproval of Clinton's pardon and the belief that he did it for unethical reasons, there is much less agreement among the public about the ongoing congressional investigations of the Rich pardon. The latest poll shows 50% of Americans approving of congressional committee hearings into the Rich matter, while 41% disapprove. Those who have closely followed the news about the pardon are slightly more approving of the hearings (57%) than is the general public. Even though equal numbers of Democrats disapprove as approve of the Rich pardon, a solid majority (64%) of Democrats disapprove of congressional hearings. Conversely, a strong majority of Republicans approve of the hearings (70%), as do a plurality of independents (49%).

Clintons' Images Suffer
The controversy has taken a heavy toll on Americans' evaluations of the former president. Clinton's favorable rating has dropped to 42% while his unfavorable rating has risen to 55%, both of which essentially match the low points of his presidential career. The 42% favorable rating matches the previous low obtained immediately following the Republican National Convention in August 2000. Clinton's unfavorable rating of 55% is one point higher than the 54% score he received at that same time.

The change in Clinton's image has been dramatic in the last few weeks. In a Gallup poll conducted at the beginning of this month (February 1-4), a majority of the public (51%) still rated Clinton favorably, while 48% rated him unfavorably. Immediately after the election, in November and December 2000, Clinton's favorable ratings were as high as 57%. All told, Clinton's favorable ratings have fallen nine points in just over two weeks and a total of 15 points in just over two months.

Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings have also fallen in recent weeks, though not as much as her husband's. The latest poll shows 49% of Americans with a favorable opinion of the New York senator, while 44% have an unfavorable opinion of her. In the February 1-4 poll, 52% of the public viewed her favorably and 43% unfavorably. Like her husband, Hillary also had slightly higher ratings following the election, when 56% of the public rated her favorably and 39% rated her unfavorably. The revelation that Mrs. Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, received payments for helping two clients -- one receiving a pardon and the other a commutation of his sentence from former President Clinton -- came as this poll was being conducted, and it is possible Senator Clinton's image may suffer further as a result.

Fifty-four percent of Americans now agree with those who criticize Clinton for his actions during his last week in office, as opposed to thinking the criticism is largely fueled by his "enemies trying to get him one more time," a position with which 39% of Americans agree. Only 10 days earlier, in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted February 9-11, the public was more evenly split on this issue, with 49% agreeing the criticism was fair and 47% believing it was Clinton's enemies trying to get him. Nor does the public blame the messenger for Clinton's troubles, as 59% of Americans believe the media have been fair in handling news about Clinton since he left office, while just 34% think they have been unfair.

Much of the increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with Clinton's critics has come from independents, as 44% agreed with the criticism in the earlier poll but 52% do now. Republicans' and Democrats' opinions on this matter are essentially unchanged from the previous poll. Men and younger Americans have also become more likely to agree with the criticism in the past several days.

Attention Paid to the Controversy
Despite the intense media focus, the Clinton pardons are not attracting as much attention as other major news events Gallup has tracked over the years. Sixty percent of Americans say they are following the pardon controversy closely. By way of comparison, an identical 60% said they were closely following news about President Bush's faith-based initiatives in an early February poll. The highest level of attention to any news story over the past 10 years was attained last November, when 87% said they were closely following news about the presidential election recount in Florida.

The current Clinton controversy is also having less of an impact than the one that led to his impeachment. Eighty-three percent of Americans said they were closely following news about the Monica Lewinsky affair in August 1998. Finally, Gallup polling in December 1992 showed that only 40% were closely following news of former president George Bush's pardon of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,016 adults, 18 years and older, conducted February 19-21, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Thinking about Clinton's actions in his last week in office, which comes closer to your point of view about the controversy that it has caused -- [ROTATED: you agree with the people who criticize Clinton for what he did, (or) you think this is mainly Clinton's enemies trying to get him one more time]?

 

 

You agree with
people who criticize

Clinton's enemies trying to get him

No
opinion

       

2001 Feb 19-21

54%

39

7

       

2001 Feb 9-11

49%

47

4



How closely have you been following the news about the presidential pardon of financier Marc Rich issued by Bill Clinton during his last week in office -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all closely?

 

 

Very
closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not at all closely

No
opinion

           

2001 Feb 19-21

20%

40

21

18

1



Overall, do you approve or disapprove of Bill Clinton's presidential pardon of financier Marc Rich?

BASED ON -- 483 -- NATIONAL ADULTS; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

       

2001 Feb 19-21

20%

62

18



Which of the following comes closer to your view of the reason why Bill Clinton pardoned financier Marc Rich -- [ROTATED: Clinton did it because he generally felt it was in the best interest of justice, (or) Clinton did it in return for financial contributions to his presidential library, the Democratic Party, and to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign]?

BASED ON -- 533 -- NATIONAL ADULTS; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

 

In the best interest
of justice

In return for financial contributions

BOTH/
NEITHER
(vol.)


No
opinion

         

2001 Feb 19-21

22%

58

7

13

         

(vol.) Volunteered response



Currently, congressional committees are holding hearings into Bill Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich. Do you approve or disapprove of these hearings?

 

 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

       

2001 Feb 19-21

50%

41

9



All in all, would you say the media have been fair or unfair in the way they have handled news about former President Clinton since he left office?

 

 

Fair

Unfair

No opinion

       

2001 Feb 19-21

59%

34

7



Next, we'd like to get your overall opinion of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of this person -- or if you have never heard of him or her. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

Bill Clinton

 


Favorable

Unfavor-
able

No
opinion

   


Favorable

Unfavor-able

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

   

%

%

%

                 

2001

       

(LV) 1996 Oct 31-Nov 1

59

37

4

(NA) 2001 Feb 19-21

42

55

3

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 30-31

60

37

4

         

(LV) 1996 Oct 26-29

58

38

4

(NA) 2001 Feb 1-4

51

48

1

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 19-20

59

36

5

2000

       

(LV) 1996 Oct 18-19

58

37

5

(NA) 2000 Dec 2-4

57

41

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 17-18

61

34

5

(NA) 2000 Nov 13-15

57

41

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 16-17

58

38

4

(NA) 2000 Oct 25-28

54

44

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 15-16

58

38

4

(RV) 2000 Sep 15-17

46

48

6

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 14-15

59

36

5

(NA) 2000 Aug 18-19

48

48

4

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 13-14

58

36

6

(NA) 2000 Aug 4-5

42

54

4

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 12-13

60

35

5

(NA) 2000 Apr 28-30

47

51

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 11-12

62

35

3

1999

       

(LV) 1996 Oct 5-6

62

33

5

(NA) 1999 Dec 9-12

45

53

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 4-5

60

34

6

(NA) 1999 Sep 23-26

54

45

1

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 3-4

58

37

5

(NA) 1999 Aug 3-4

52

46

2

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 2-3

60

37

3

(NA) 1999 Jul 22-25

57

41

2

 

(LV) 1996 Sep 27-29

63

33

4

(NA) 1999 Jun 25-27

48

50

2

 

(LV) 1996 Sep 3-5

59

35

6

(NA) 1999 Apr 30-May 2

53

45

2

 

(LV) 1996 Sep 2-4

61

34

5

(NA) 1999 Apr 13-14

51

47

2

 

(RV) 1996 Sep 2-4

62

33

5

(NA) 1999 Mar 5-8

54

43

3

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 30-Sep 1

61

35

4

(NA) 1999 Feb 19-21

55

43

2

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 28-29

60

34

6

(NA) 1999 Feb 4-8

55

44

1

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 16-18

57

41

2

(NA) 1999 Jan 8-10

58

40

2

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 14-15

58

37

5

1998

       

(RV) 1996 Aug 5-7

60

37

3

(NA) 1998 Dec 28-29

56

42

2

 

(NA) 1996 Jul 18-21

62

35

3

(NA) 1998 Dec 4-6

56

40

4

 

(NA) 1996 Jun 18-19

60

36

4

(NA) 1998 Nov 20-22

57

40

3

 

(NA) 1996 May 28-29

59

38

3

(NA) 1998 Oct 9-12(‡)

54

43

3

 

(NA) 1996 May 9-12

60

39

1

(NA) 1998 Sep 14-15

51

47

2

 

(NA) 1996 Mar 15-17

58

38

4

(NA) 1998 Aug 21-23

55

43

2

 

(NA) 1996 Feb 23-25

60

37

3

(NA) 1998 Aug 20 (‡)

53

43

4

 

(NA) 1996 Jan 12-15

54

44

2

(NA) 1998 Aug 18 (‡)

55

42

3

 

1995

     

(NA) 1998 Aug 10-12

60

38

2

 

(NA) 1995 Nov 6-8

59

38

3

(NA) 1998 Aug 7-8

58

40

2

 

(NA) 1995 Sep 22-24

55

41

4

(NA) 1998 Jun 5-7

61

36

3

 

(NA) 1995 Aug 4-7

51

44

5

(NA) 1998 Mar 20-22

60

35

5

 

(NA) 1995 Jul 7-9

57

40

3

(NA) 1998 Mar 16(‡)

60

37

3

 

(NA) 1995 Apr 17-19

56

42

1

(NA) 1998 Feb 20-22

64

34

2

 

(NA) 1995 Mar 17-19

51

45

4

(NA) 1998 Feb 13-15

58

39

3

 

(NA) 1995 Jan 16-18

56

42

2

(NA) 1998 Jan 30-Feb 1

65

34

1

 

1994

     

(NA) 1998 Jan 28

63

32

5

 

(NA) 1994 Dec 28-30

48

49

3

(NA) 1998 Jan 25-26

53

43

4

 

(NA) 1994 Nov 28-29

50

47

3

(NA) 1998 Jan 24-25

58

39

3

 

(NA) 1994 Sep 6-7

47

50

3

(NA) 1998 Jan 23-24

57

40

3

 

(NA) 1994 Jul 15-17

49

48

3

1997

       

(NA) 1994 Apr 22-24

56

41

3

(NA) 1997 Dec 18-21

58

37

5

 

(NA) 1994 Mar 25-27

56

40

4

(NA) 1997 Oct 27-29

62

35

3

 

(NA) 1994 Mar 7-8

59

38

3

(NA) 1997 Oct 3-5

56

40

4

 

(NA) 1994 Jan 15-17

60

37

3

(NA) 1997 Sep 25-28

61

35

4

 

(NA) 1994 Jan 6-8

62

35

3

(NA) 1997 Sep 6-7

63

32

5

 

1993

     

(NA) 1997 Jul 25-27

62

35

3

 

(NA) 1993 Nov 19-21

55

41

4

(NA) 1997 Jun 26-29

59

37

4

 

(NA) 1993 Nov 15-16

56

38

6

(NA) 1997 Apr 18-20

60

38

2

 

(NA) 1993 Nov 2-4

54

42

4

(NA) 1997 Mar 24-26

63

34

3

 

(NA) 1993 Sep 24-26

63

32

5

(NA) 1997 Feb 24-26

61

34

5

 

(NA) 1993 Aug 8-10

53

42

5

(NA) 1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

64

32

4

 

(NA) 1993 Jul 19-21

51

45

4

(NA) 1997 Jan 10-13

65

31

4

 

(NA) 1993 Jun 5-6

48

44

8

(NA) 1997 Jan 3-5

60

36

4

 

(NA) 1993 Apr 22-24

63

32

5

1996

       

(NA) 1993 Jan 29-31

65

27

8

(LV) 1996 Nov 3-4

56

40

4

 

(NA) 1993 Jan 18-19

66

26

8

(LV) 1996 Nov 2-3

57

38

5

 

1992

     

(LV) 1996 Nov 1-2

58

37

5

 

(NA) 1992 Nov 10-11

58

35

7

Hillary Rodham Clinton

 

 


Favorable

Unfavor-able

No

opinion

   


Favorable

Unfavor-able

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

   

%

%

%

2001

       

1997

     

(NA) 2001 Feb 19-21

49

44

7

 

(NA) 1998 Jan 23-24

60

35

5

         

(NA) 1997 Dec 18-21

56

38

6

(NA) 2001 Feb 1-4

52

43

5

 

(NA) 1997 Oct 27-29

61

34

5

         

(NA) 1997 Jun 26-29

51

42

7

2000

       

(NA) 1997 Feb 24-26

51

42

6

(NA) 2000 Nov 13-15

56

39

5

 

(NA) 1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

55

39

6

(NA) 2000 Oct 25-28

52

43

5

 

(NA) 1997 Jan 10-13

56

37

7

(NA) 2000 Aug 4-5

45

50

5

 

1996

     

(NA) 2000 Feb 4-6

55

39

6

 

(LV) 1996 Oct 26-29

49

43

8

1999

       

(RV) 1996 Aug 28-29

51

41

8

(NA) 1999 Dec 9-12

48

48

4

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 16-18

47

48

5

(NA) 1999 Sep 23-26

56

40

4

 

(RV) 1996 Aug 5-7

48

45

7

(NA) 1999 Aug 3-4

56

41

3

 

(NA) 1996 Jun 18-19

46

47

6

(NA) 1999 Jul 22-25

62

35

3

 

(NA) 1996 Mar 15-17

47

48

5

(NA) 1999 Jun 25-27

56

42

2

 

(NA) 1996 Jan 12-15

43

51

6

(NA) 1999 Mar 5-7

65

31

4

 

1995

     

(NA) 1999 Feb 19-21

65

30

5

 

(NA) 1995 Jul 7-9

50

44

6

(NA) 1999 Feb 4-8

66

31

3

 

(NA) 1995 Mar 17-19

49

44

7

1998

       

(NA) 1995 Jan 16-18

50

44

6

(NA) 1998 Dec 28-29

67

29

4

 

1994

     

(NA) 1998 Oct 9-12(‡)

63

33

4

 

(NA) 1994 Nov 28-29

50

44

6

(NA) 1998 Sep 14-15

61

33

6

 

(NA) 1994 Sep 6-7

48

47

5

(NA) 1998 Aug 21-23

61

33

6

 

(NA) 1994 Jul 15-17

48

46

6

(NA) 1998 Aug 20 (‡)

60

30

10

 

(NA) 1994 Apr 22-24

56

40

4

(NA) 1998 Aug 18 (‡)

64

29

7

 

(NA) 1994 Mar 25-27

52

42

6

(NA) 1998 Aug 10-12

60

36

4

 

(NA) 1994 Mar 7-8

55

40

5

(NA) 1998 Aug 7-8

60

35

5

 

(NA) 1994 Jan 15-17

57

36

7

(NA) 1998 Feb 13-15

60

36

4

 

1993

     

(NA) 1998 Jan 30-Feb 1

64

34

2

 

(NA) 1993 Nov 2-4

58

34

8

(NA) 1998 Jan 28 (‡)

61

34

5

 

(NA) 1993 Sep 24-26

62

27

11

(NA) 1998 Jan 24-25

61

33

6

 

(NA) 1993 Aug 8-10

57

33

10

 

(NA) National Adults
(LV) Likely Voters
(RV) Registered Voters
(‡) Based on half sample

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