Election 2008

Americans Predict Bill Clinton Would be Asset as First Spouse

Public favors an informal advisory role for the former president

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Former President Bill Clinton will enter uncharted waters should his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, succeed in capturing the presidency in 2008. Not only would he be the first man in a position that is defined by duties traditionally associated with women, but he would have to make the seemingly awkward transition from the former leader of the free world to a rather domestic-oriented post.

The latest Gallup Panel survey, conducted Feb. 22-25, 2007, investigated how Americans say Bill Clinton might write his new resume. Although a majority of Americans (63%) say he should not hold an official government job as policy advisor to President Hillary Clinton, 61% think he should advise her unofficially. Americans also think Bill Clinton should fill such familiar duties of presidential spouses as hosting White House social events, taking up a charitable cause, and representing the White House abroad at special ceremonies. They do not believe, however, that he should deliver paid speeches before business and industry groups.

More generally, Americans predict Clinton would be an asset as a presidential spouse. By a better than two-to-one margin, 70% vs. 28%, Americans believe he would be more helpful than harmful to his wife's presidency.  

Bill Clinton's way might be smoothed somewhat by the fact that most Americans believe first ladies have always had some level of influence over the decisions presidents make. About one in five Americans perceive that previous presidential spouses have had "a great deal" of influence, while another 52% believe they have had "a fair amount" of influence. Only 26% minimize the influence first ladies have had with their presidential husbands. 

The prevailing view among Americans today is that Bill Clinton would be no different from the norm in the amount of influence he would wield as spouse to the president. Forty percent of Americans predict he would have more influence than previous presidential spouses. Six in 10 think he would have about the same influence (35%) or even less influence (25%).

Republicans and Democrats are fairly similar in their views on this question. About 4 in 10 members of each party (including independents that lean toward each) say Bill Clinton would have more influence than the norm. However, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to believe Bill Clinton would have less influence than previous presidential spouses. 

Americans Expect Bill Clinton to Maintain Traditional Duties

Some of the more visible first lady assignments over the years include helping to plan White House events and dinners, championing a social issue or cause, and representing the White House at foreign weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies. Additionally, presidents' wives have become important fixtures on the political circuits of their respective parties, helping to raise money and build support for candidates at election time. Most Americans are amenable to Bill Clinton carrying out all of these familiar roles.

As noted, a majority of Americans also accept the fact that spouses will provide unofficial advice to their partners and believe Bill Clinton should be no different. What Americans don't want to see is Bill Clinton serving in an official government role as a policy advisor to Hillary Clinton: 35% favor this, 63% oppose it. By a slimmer margin (45% in favor, 53% opposed), they also think he should not make paid speeches to business and industry groups while his wife is president.

If Americans are ever greatly concerned about Hillary Clinton's presidential powers being usurped by her spouse via "pillow talk," or about controversy over Bill Clinton's role becoming a distraction to her duties, one extreme solution would be for Bill Clinton not to live at the White House. However, nearly 9 in 10 Americans reject this suggestion.

If Hillary Clinton were elected president, do you think her husband, Bill Clinton, should or should not…


Yes, should

No, should not

2007 Feb 22-25

%

%

Focus his attention on a humanitarian issue or charitable cause

89

9

Live in the White House

89

10

Actively campaign for Democratic candidates for office around the country

78

22

Travel to other countries to attend ceremonies as an official representative of the White House

72

28

Serve as White House host, helping plan social events and dinners

70

29

Serve as an unofficial policy adviser to Hillary

61

38

Make paid speeches for business and industry groups

45

53

Serve in an official government position as a policy adviser to Hillary

35

63

Partisan differences are minimal concerning most of the potential roles Bill Clinton could play if his wife were elected president, but larger gaps are evident for areas where he would be involved in policymaking or representing the United States in an official capacity. 

Percentage Saying Bill Clinton Should Fill These Roles as Presidential Spouse


Democrats/
Democratic
"leaners"

Republicans/
Republican
"leaners"

2007 Feb 22-25

%

%

Focus his attention on a humanitarian issue or charitable cause

93

85

Live in the White House

95

81

Actively campaign for Democratic candidates for office around the country

89

67

Travel to other countries to attend ceremonies as an official representative of the White House

85

58

Serve as White House host, helping plan social events and dinners

73

67

Serve as an unofficial policy adviser to Hillary

74

47

Make paid speeches for business and industry groups

51

38

Serve in an official government position as a policy adviser to Hillary

47

23

"No" to Serving Hillary's Senate Term

An entirely different way for Bill Clinton to occupy his time while his wife is president would be to serve the remainder of her term as New York senator. Indeed, state governors commonly appoint a former officeholder's spouse to fill a vacancy created by his or her death or resignation until a new election can be held.

While some leading Democratic operatives have enthusiastically endorsed this idea for Bill Clinton should Hillary win the presidency, Americans' initial reactions are negative. Gallup asked "If Hillary Clinton were elected president, would you favor or oppose New York's governor appointing Bill Clinton to serve out the remainder of her Senate term?" Six in 10 oppose this; 37% are in favor.

Republicans and Democrats have sharply different views about this. A majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners believe Bill Clinton should serve out his wife's Senate term, while Republicans are in even broader agreement that he should not (although, of course, there is little question that whomever the Democratic governor of New York appointed to replace Hillary Clinton in this scenario would be a Democrat).

Whether Americans would favor Bill Clinton making an independent run for the Senate is not clear -- that is a question for future polling. But public opposition to him filling in during an interim role, as well as Americans' reluctance to having him continue his lucrative lecture circuit with business and industry, suggests an underlying public concern about conflicts of interest that may extend to a presidential first spouse serving in the Senate in any capacity.

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 22-25, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/26722/Americans-Predict-Bill-Clinton-Would-Asset-First-Spouse.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030