Clinton Leaves Office With Mixed Public Reaction

by David W. Moore

High job approval, low personal approval, public ambivalence on place in history and future political life

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- President William Jefferson Clinton will leave office next week with the highest average job approval rating any president of the past half century has received over his last three months in office, but with low public ratings of his personal character, and with Americans expressing mixed feelings about his record of accomplishments and what he should do in the future.

According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted January 5-7 of this year, Americans are generally pleased with Clinton's performance in office, but critical of the president's personal behavior -- a conflicted view of Clinton that emerged during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and ensuing impeachment trial, and that has remained with the public ever since. The poll shows that 65% of Americans currently approve of the way he is handling his job as president, which is slightly above the average he has received over the past three months. In fact, Clinton's average approval rating for his last quarter in office is almost 61% -- the highest final quarter rating any president has received in the past half century. On the other hand, just 41% of Americans approve of Clinton "as a person," and only 39% consider him "honest and trustworthy."

The public appears equally conflicted in its expectations of Clinton's place in history. By a substantial margin, 68% to 28%, Americans expect Clinton to be remembered more for his involvement in personal scandal than for his accomplishments. But at the same time, Americans expect by a two-to-one margin, 47% to 22%, that Clinton will go down in history as an above average or outstanding president rather than a below average or poor one. Another 30% expect history to view him as average.

The poll also shows a public that is about evenly divided over Clinton's political future. By a six-point margin, 51% to 45%, Americans say they are glad he is leaving office. However, by a 12-point margin, 55% to 43%, Americans also say Clinton should remain active in public life rather than get out completely.

Despite the public's generally sour view of Clinton's personal behavior and involvement in the Lewinsky scandal, most Americans do not want Clinton to be charged with a crime once he leaves office. About two-thirds -- 67% -- say he should not be charged, while 30% say he should be. The public has consistently opposed charging Clinton with a crime since the question was first asked in February 1999, but the current margin of opposition is the largest found by Gallup in the five times it has been asked. If a grand jury does indict Clinton after he leaves office, 52% of Americans say President George W. Bush should pardon Clinton, while 42% disagree.

Volatile Public Approval Ratings
Clinton began his first term of office with the highest job disapproval rating of any president in the past six decades, when a few days after he took office a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed 58% of Americans approved, but 20% disapproved of his performance. The 58% approval actually compared favorably with the first approval ratings received by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, who each received a 51% rating. The lowest initial job disapproval rating apart from Clinton's was recorded for Reagan at 13%, while all other presidents measured had an initial disapproval rating of 8% or lower.

Clinton's job approval ratings dropped more quickly than those of any other newly elected president, so that five months after the new president assumed office, just 37% approved and 49% disapproved of his performance. The precipitous drop occurred as he was embroiled in controversies over his cabinet choices and how to handle the issue of gays serving in the military.

Clinton recovered by the end of his first year, and as he approached the second year emphasizing social issues and especially health care, his approval reached its initial level of 58%. But in the summer and fall of 1994, the administration's health care proposals largely backfired, as they were criticized for being too ambitious and Congress failed to enact any of the most significant pieces into law. In August and September 1994, Clinton's approval dropped to 39%, but for most of the year it fluctuated in the low to mid 40s.

The stunning Republican victory that gave the GOP majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1994 provided no help to Clinton, and for most of 1995, his approval rating continued to languish in the mid 40% range. But as the budget conflicts between the president and the Congress became sharper, Clinton's approval began to increase. In the wake of the government shutdown in early 1996, Clinton's approval rating moved permanently above the 50% level, and never fell below 52% after that.

Clinton's highest ratings came during the Lewinsky scandal, which also coincided with the first strong evidence that the federal budget would actually produce a surplus. Still, the only time that Clinton received a rating above 70% was immediately after the House of Representatives impeached him and sent the charges to the Senate for trial. After Senate acquittal, Clinton's ratings remained in the high 60s for just a couple of months, and then fell back into mostly a narrow range of high 50s to low 60s for the rest of his second term.

Clinton's average approval rating for his whole presidency is just over 55%, virtually identical to the average compiled by Lyndon Johnson. John F. Kennedy (70%), Dwight Eisenhower (65%) and Bush (61%) all had higher averages, while Reagan (53%), Richard Nixon (49%), Gerald Ford (47%), Jimmy Carter (46%) and Harry Truman (45%) ended their presidencies with lower averages.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with -- 1,018 -- national adults, aged 18+, conducted January 5-7, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 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.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bill Clinton is handling his job as president?

 


Approve

Dis-
approve

No
opinion

   


Approve

Dis-
approve

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

   

%

%

%

2001

               

01 Jan 5-7

65

31

4

 

99 Feb 4-8

65

33

2

         

99 Jan 27^

67

31

2

2000

       

99 Jan 22-24

69

29

2

00 Dec 15-17

66

32

2

 

99 Jan 15-17

69

29

2

00 Dec 2-4

60

35

5

 

99 Jan 8-10

67

30

3

00 Nov 13-15

63

33

4

 

99 Jan 6^

63

34

3

00 Oct 25-28

57

38

5

 

1998

     

00 Oct 6-9

58

37

5

 

98 Dec 19-20

73

25

2

00 Sep 11-13

60

34

6

 

98 Dec 15-16

63

33

4

00 Aug 29-Sep 3

62

35

3

 

98 Dec 12-13

64

34

2

00 Aug 18-19

62

35

3

 

98 Dec 4-6

66

30

4

00 Aug 11-12

58

39

3

 

98 Nov 20-22

66

30

4

00 Aug 4-5

57

40

3

 

98 Nov 13-15

66

31

3

00 Jul 25-26

57

39

4

 

98 Oct 29-Nov 1

66

30

4

00 Jul 14-15

59

37

4

 

98 Oct 23-25

65

32

3

00 Jul 6-9

59

36

5

 

98 Oct 9-12

65

32

3

00 Jun 22-25

55

40

5

 

98 Oct 6-7

63

34

3

00 Jun 6-7

60

36

4

 

98 Sep 23-24

66

31

3

00 May 18-21

57

37

6

 

98 Sep 21^

66

31

3

00 May 5-7

57

36

7

 

98 Sep 20^

60

34

6

00 Apr 28-30

59

39

2

 

98 Sep 14-15

63

35

2

00 Mar 30-Apr 2

62

34

4

 

98 Sep 11-12

63

34

3

00 Mar 17-19

56

39

5

 

98 Sep 10^

60

37

3

00 Mar 10-12

63

34

3

 

98 Sep 1^

62

33

5

00 Feb 25-27

57

39

4

 

98 Aug 21-23

62

35

3

00 Feb 14-15

62

34

4

 

98 Aug 20^

61

34

5

00 Feb 4-6

63

33

4

 

98 Aug 18^

66

29

5

00 Jan 25-26

64

32

4

 

98 Aug 17^

62

32

6

00 Jan 17-20

62

35

3

 

98 Aug 10-12

65

30

5

00 Jan 13-16

59

37

4

 

98 Aug 7-8

64

32

4

00 Jan 7-10

63

35

2

 

98 Jul 29^

65

31

4

1999

       

98 Jul 13-14

63

31

6

99 Dec 20-21

57

36

7

 

98 Jul 7-8

61

34

5

99 Dec 9-12

56

41

3

 

98 Jun 22-23

60

34

6

99 Nov 18-21

59

36

5

 

98 Jun 5-7

60

34

6

99 Nov 4-7

58

38

4

 

98 May 8-10

64

31

5

99 Oct 21-24

59

36

5

 

98 Apr 17-19

63

31

6

99 Oct 8-10

56

39

5

 

98 Apr 1^

67

28

5

99 Sep 23-26

59

38

3

 

98 Mar 20-22

66

28

6

99 Sep 10-14

60

38

2

 

98 Mar 16^

67

29

4

99 Aug 24-26

60

35

5

 

98 Mar 6-9

63

31

6

99 Aug 16-18

59

36

5

 

98 Feb 20-22

66

29

5

99 Aug 3-4

60

35

5

 

98 Feb 13-15

66

30

4

99 Jul 22-25

64

31

5

 

98 Jan 30-Feb 1

69

28

3

99 Jul 16-18

58

38

4

 

98 Jan 25-26

59

37

4

99 Jul 13-14

59

37

4

 

98 Jan 24-25

60

35

5

99 Jun 25-27

57

41

2

 

98 Jan 23-24

58

36

6

99 Jun 11-13

60

37

3

 

98 Jan 16-18

60

30

10

99 Jun 4-5

60

35

5

 

98 Jan 6-7

59

32

9

99 May 23-24

53

42

5

 

1997

     

99 May 7-9

60

35

5

 

97 Dec 18-21

56

36

8

99 Apr 30-May 2

60

36

4

 

97 Nov 21-23

61

30

9

99 Apr 26-27

60

35

5

 

97 Nov 6-9

59

31

10

99 Apr 13-14

60

36

4

 

97 Oct 27-29

59

32

9

99 Apr 6-7

59

35

6

 

97 Oct 3-5

55

36

9

99 Mar 30-31

64

32

4

 

97 Sep 25-28

58

33

9

99 Mar 19-21

64

33

3

 

97 Sep 6-7

61

28

11

99 Mar 12-14

62

35

3

 

97 Aug 22-25

60

34

6

99 Mar 5-7

68

28

4

 

97 Aug 12-13

61

32

7

99 Feb 26-28

66

31

3

 

97 Jul 25-27

58

34

8

99 Feb 19-21

66

30

4

 

97 Jun 26-29

55

36

9

99 Feb 12-13

68

30

2

 

97 May 30-Jun 1

57

35

8

99 Feb 9^

70

27

3

 

97 May 6-7

57

35

8



(continued)

 

 


Approve

Dis-
Approve

No
opinion

   


Approve

Dis-
approve

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

   

%

%

%

1997

               

97 Apr 18-20

54

37

9

 

94 Dec 2-5

42

50

8

97 Mar 24-26

59

35

6

 

94 Nov 28-29

43

49

8

97 Feb 24-26

57

33

10

 

94 Nov 2-6

46

46

8

97 Jan 30-Feb 2

60

31

9

 

94 Oct 22-25

48

46

6

97 Jan 10-13

62

31

7

 

94 Oct 18-19

41

52

7

97 Jan 3-5

58

35

7

 

94 Oct 7-9

42

52

6

1996

       

94 Sep 23-25

44

51

5

96 Dec 9-11

58

34

8

 

94 Sep 16-18

42

50

8

96 Nov 21-24

58

35

7

 

94 Sep 6-7

39

54

7

96 Oct 26-29

54

36

10

 

94 Aug 15-16

39

52

9

96 Oct 2-3

57

36

7

 

94 Aug 8-9

43

48

9

96 Oct 1-2

58

34

8

 

94 Jul 15-17

42

49

9

96 Sep 7-9

60

31

9

 

94 Jul 1-3

43

48

9

96 Aug 30-Sep 1

60

33

7

 

94 Jun 25-28

44

47

9

96 Aug 23-25

53

39

8

 

94 Jun 11-12

49

44

7

96 Aug 16-18

52

39

9

 

94 Jun 3-6

46

47

7

96 Aug 5-7

57

36

7

 

94 May 20-22

51

42

7

96 Jul 25-28

58

35

7

 

94 Apr 22-24

48

44

8

96 Jul 18-21

57

35

8

 

94 Apr 16-18

51

41

8

96 Jun 27-30

52

42

6

 

94 Mar 25-27

52

41

7

96 Jun 18-19

58

37

5

 

94 Mar 11-13

50

41

9

96 May 28-29

53

38

9

 

94 Mar 7-8

50

42

8

96 May 9-12

55

39

6

 

94 Feb 26-28

53

41

6

96 Apr 25-28

56

37

7

 

94 Jan 28-30

58

35

7

96 Apr 9-10

54

40

6

 

94 Jan 15-17

54

38

8

96 Mar 15-17

52

39

9

 

94 Jan 6-8

54

38

8

96 Mar 8-10

54

37

9

 

1993

     

96 Feb 23-25

53

40

7

 

93 Dec 17-19

54

40

6

96 Jan 26-29

52

42

6

 

93 Dec 4-6

52

38

10

96 Jan 12-15

46

47

7

 

93 Nov 19-21

48

43

9

96 Jan 5-7

42

49

9

 

93 Nov 15-16

50

43

7

1995

       

93 Nov 2-4

48

45

7

95 Dec 15-18

51

44

5

 

93 Oct 28-30

48

45

7

95 Nov 17-18

53

38

9

 

93 Oct 13-18

47

44

9

95 Nov 6-8

52

41

7

 

93 Oct 8-10

50

42

8

95 Oct 19-22

49

40

11

 

93 Sep 24-26

56

36

8

95 Oct 5-7

46

42

12

 

93 Sep 13-15

46

43

11

95 Sep 22-24

48

44

8

 

93 Sep 10-12

47

42

11

95 Sep 14-17

44

44

12

 

93 Aug 23-25

44

47

9

95 Aug 28-30

46

43

11

 

93 Aug 8-10

44

48

8

95 Aug 4-7

46

42

12

 

93 Jul 19-21

41

49

10

95 Jul 20-23

46

44

10

 

93 Jul 9-11

45

48

7

95 Jul 7-9

48

42

10

 

93 Jun 29-30

46

47

7

95 Jun 5-6

47

42

11

 

93 Jun 18-21

39

50

11

95 May 11-14

51

42

7

 

93 Jun 5-6

37

49

14

95 Apr 21-24

44

47

9

 

93 May 21-23

44

46

10

95 Apr 17-19

46

45

9

 

93 May 10-12

45

44

11

95 Apr 5-6

47

45

8

 

93 Apr 22-24

55

37

8

95 Mar 27-29

44

47

9

 

93 Mar 29-31

52

37

11

95 Mar 17-19

46

45

9

 

93 Mar 12-14

53

34

13

95 Feb 24-26

42

48

10

 

93 Feb 26-28

59

29

12

95 Feb 3-5

49

44

7

 

93 Feb 12-14

51

34

15

95 Jan 16-18

47

45

8

 

93 Jan 29-31

54

30

16

1994

       

93 Jan 24-26

58

20

22

94 Dec 28-30

40

52

8

         

94 Dec 16-18

42

53

5

         

(^) Based on one-night poll; margin of error = ± 4 pct pts, with additional possible error due to limitations of polls conducted in only one night



Apart from whether you approve or disapprove of the way Bill Clinton is handling his job as president, what do you think of Clinton as a person? Would you say you approve or disapprove of him?

 

 

As a person

Job approval

             
 

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

             

2001 Jan 5-7

41

54

5

65

31

4

             

2000 Apr 28-30

29

63

8

59

39

2

2000 Mar 10-12

35

59

6

63

34

3

2000 Feb 25-27

32

63

5

57

39

4

2000 Jan 17-19

36

59

5

62

35

3

2000 Jan 7-10

31

64

5

63

35

2

1999 Oct 8-10

35

62

3

56

39

5



Thinking about the Clinton presidency,

How do you think President Clinton will go down in history -- as an outstanding president, above average, average, below average, or poor?

 

 


Outstanding

Above
average


Average

Below average


Poor

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

             

2001 Jan 5-7

15

32

30

11

11

1

             

2000 Feb 14-15

8

29

34

12

16

1

1999 Feb 8-9

11

29

27

13

18

2

1998 Jan 24-25

8

23

37

16

14

2

1998 Jan 23-24

7

23

41

14

14

1

1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

6

30

47

8

8

1



Do you generally think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy?

 

 

Yes, is honest and trustworthy

No, is not honest and trustworthy

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

       

(NA) 2001 Jan 5-7

39

58

3

       

(NA) 1999 Feb 12-13

35

62

3

(NA) 1998 May 8-10 ^

44

51

5

(NA) 1997 Dec 18-21

46

48

6

(NA) 1997 Oct 27-29

51

45

4

(NA) 1997 Sep 25-28

51

44

5

(NA) 1997 Sep 6-7

53

42

5

(LV) 1996 Oct 12-13

47

48

5

(LV) 1996 Oct 11-12

48

46

6

       

(NA) National Adults

(LV) Likely Voters



Do you consider yourself to be a supporter of Bill Clinton, or not?

 

Yes, supporter

No, not

No opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

47%

52

1



In your view, will Clinton mostly be remembered as president for -- [ROTATED: his accomplishments, (or) his involvement in personal scandal]?

 


His accomplishments

Involvement in personal scandal



OTHER (vol.)



No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 Jan 5-7

28

68

3

1

         

2000 Aug 11-12

22

73

2

3

1998 Aug 21-23

23

71

3

3



Which comes closer to your view of Bill Clinton as he prepares to leave the White House -- [ROTATED: I'm glad he is leaving, (or) I'll miss him when he is gone]?

BASED ON -- 514 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

I'm glad
he is leaving

I'll miss him
when he is gone

No
opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

51%

45

4



Which comes closer to your view of Bill Clinton as he prepares to leave the White House -- [ROTATED: Bill Clinton has something worthwhile to contribute and should remain active in public life, (or) Bill Clinton should get out of public life completely]?

BASED ON -- 504 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Remain active
in public life

Should get out
of public life

No
opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

55%

43

2



As you may know, the independent counsel in the Monica Lewinsky case is assembling a grand jury to decide whether or not to charge Bill Clinton with a crime once he leaves office. Do you think Bill Clinton should or should not be charged in a court of law with a crime for these matters, after he leaves office?

 

 

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

 

%

%

%

       

2001 Jan 5-7

30

67

3

       

2000 Aug 18-19

41

54

5

2000 May 23-24

38

56

6

1999 Dec 9-12

35

62

3

1999 Feb 12-13

39

58

3



If the independent counsel does indict Bill Clinton, do you think President George W. Bush should or should not pardon Clinton?

 

 

Should

Should not

No opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

52%

42

6



(vol.) Volunteered response

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