CNN Poll: Likability helps Obama survive brutal week
May 20th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
1 year ago

CNN Poll: Likability helps Obama survive brutal week

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama's personal popularity may be one reason he came out of what was arguably the worst week of his presidency with his approval rating holding steady, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/ORC International survey, released Monday, also indicates that Americans see the current controversies as very important, maybe even as much as the Iran-Contra scandal, but they haven't reached the epic levels of Watergate.

And the poll suggests the tea party movement has benefited from the Internal Revenue Service controversy, which involved the IRS targeting of tea party and other conservative groups who filed for tax exempt status, while the controversy over the administration's handling and response to last September's attack in Benghazi, which left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead, does not appear to have affected the public's view of Hillary Clinton, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time of the attack.

The week also included the revelation that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed telephone records for almost 20 Associated Press employees as part of a national security leak investigation.

CNN reported on Sunday that 53% of people questioned in the survey said they approve of the job the president is doing, with 45% saying they disapprove. The president's approval rating was at 51% in CNN's previous poll, from early April. The two point rise was well within the survey's sampling error.

The new numbers indicate that Obama remains popular, with 79% of Americans saying the president is likable.

"This underscores just how important the president's personal characteristics have been to him, and how useful it is to the White House that IRS, Benghazi, and AP controversies have not dimmed Obama's personal popularity so far," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The president's handling of these matters so far may have helped boost his standing with the public on a couple of other key measures.

Is the president a strong leader?

Fifty-eight percent say yes.

"The last time the president reached that level was just after the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011," adds Holland. "That finding suggests that the public is responding favorably to Obama's stern reaction in recent days and hints that, far from catching blame for the latest controversies, Obama may actually be benefiting from them in some ways."

The poll also indicates that 52% say the president can manage the government effectively. That's up 10 percentage points since the last time CNN asked the question, in 2011.

Is the president honest and trustworthy?

Fifty-eight percent say yes.

"That a number that has remained virtually unchanged for President Obama since 2009, and the underlying reason why most Americans say they believe what he has said about Benghazi and the IRS," says Holland.

Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided in their views of Obama. Most independents view him as honest and trustworthy and as a strong leader, but they're split on whether he can govern effectively.

As always, Obama's Achilles heel remains policy issues. Most Americans say they don't agree with him on the size and power of the federal government, and Americans remain split overall on whether they agree with Obama on issues they care about.

So where do the current controversies rank compared to scandals that rocked Washington in the past?

Fifty-five percent say the IRS and Benghazi matters are very important to the nation and 53% saying the same thing about the AP case.

"But that doesn't quite make either of them another Watergate - at least, not yet. Nearly two-thirds say that Watergate was very important to the nation at the time; 58% say Iran-Contra was very important during the Reagan administration," says Holland. "So Americans see the current controversies as very important - maybe as much as Iran-Contra, but not yet at Watergate levels."

Politically, the group that may have benefited the most from last week's developments is the tea party movement, which may be getting something akin to a "sympathy vote" for being targeted by the highly unpopular IRS. The tea party's overall favorable rating is up nine points, to 37%, since March. But a 45% plurality continue to hold an unfavorable view of the tea party movement.

But views of the GOP have moved in the opposite direction. Fifty-nine percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, tying the all-time record for negative views of the GOP. That's a five-point increase since March, and raises the possibility that the public approves of the GOP's actions on IRS and Benghazi but might be put off by the way the party has been making its point. Favorable ratings for the Democratic Party are up six points in that same time.

And what about Hillary Clinton, who remains a target of some Republicans who claim the former secretary of state wasn't assigned enough blame in an independent probe into the Benghazi attack.

According to the poll, 61% have a favorable impression of Clinton, who would instantly become the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run. Thirty-six percent see Clinton in an unfavorable light. The Clinton numbers are little changed from the 63%-33% favorable/unfavorable rating the last time CNN asked the question, in March.

The poll was conducted by ORC International for CNN on May 17-18, with 923 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

– CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

soundoff (305 Responses)
  1. bob

    Nobody in their right mind believes these polls. I have not heard one person approve of Obama since he came on the scene and was supposed to be the man to get rid of all the racism. Instead he fuels the fire and everything he touches turns to crap.

    May 20, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  2. omeany

    Take that GOP!

    May 20, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  3. lB Colorado

    Dumb and Dumber, the supporters – Dumbest.

    May 20, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  4. Polska

    Really? This is BREAKING NEWS!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  5. Greg C.

    Get Real!

    May 20, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  6. Dave

    Keep it up, Republicans, and eventually it will be a net drop in polls for YOU.

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  7. Rose Brown

    Still popular.?......there are none so blind as those who WILL NOT SEE! You can't make zombies feel and realize what is truly going on, so sad.

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  8. mindie from indie

    good grief CNN – let it go – we get it.

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  9. Bev

    yep. what Bob said. I couldn't agree more.

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  10. McBob79

    Like able but highly incompetent!

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. jonnyg

    Give it a rest, if you aren't going to cover the scandal then stop tooting Obama's horn

    May 20, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. Jimkon

    Sanford, Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, Alan West, Jan Brewer, Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mitt Romney, The Koch Bros., Larry Craig, Dick Cheney, Ted Nugent and Joe the Plumber!
    How could we possibly lose?
    Vote GOP 2014 – We only attract the best and the brightest!

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. oracle

    It's only breaking news because the liberal media was really freaking out for a while. Now they can safely go back to ignoring any of Obama's faults ... and the headliners will again be ... the WEATHER!

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    President Barack Obama's personal popularity may be one reason he came out of what was arguably the worst week of his presidency with his approval rating holding steady,
    -------------------------------------------------
    Uh-huh. Maybe.
    Or more than likely it could be the GOP's non-stop search for something, anyhting, to hang around this President's neck, and if they can't find anything then they will create something.
    While msitakes have been made in this administration, and the President has to take responsibility for them, the GOP has gone way off the reservation with their witchhunt, and their creation of scandals, and doom and gloom where none exist.
    I mean my goodness, even a good jobs report, the stock market at an all time high, and the housing market rebouding nicely is reason for them to cry foul on the President.
    They've cried wolf once too many times YEARS ago. Nobody is listening to them any longer.
    Thanks be to God for that.

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. Roderick

    So you're telling us what we like now? I know that's not what the headline meant, but the way it was worded is atually quite telling. This reminds me of when we were told Obama was become popular out of nowhere. Self fulfilling headlines. Gotta love them. *drops mic, walks away*

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. Lou50

    well Obama's and Hillery's polls just proves you can't fix stupid. Apparently those people are not working either as they tend to have high accident rates trying to operate machinery!

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. Dan of NY

    So the Tea Party got a bounce. What would be even better is if they got bounced.

    May 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  18. David in CO

    Just what I wanted. I useless president who is popular on Facebook. USA fail.

    May 20, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  19. Alice

    This is terrible reporting. "Breaking News" most of you still like Obama!!! I like my 14yo nephew but I wouldn't trust him as President. I "liked" Christopher Hitchens though I disagreed with him about many things. "Liking" someone and trusting them to run the country are two very different things.

    The only thing I take away from this is CNN trying to make O look better.

    May 20, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. divejoy

    I really like my President and Clinton. The reason for their popularity is the choses on the other side. If THEY win they might turn in GEORGE W. BUSH (DOBKE YA)OR DICK CHENEY OR DONALD RHUMSFELD (RUMMY)

    May 20, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  21. Francisco Decastro

    "Is the president honest and trustworthy?

    Fifty-eight percent say yes.

    "That a number that has remained virtually unchanged for President Obama since 2009, and the underlying reason why most Americans say they believe what he has said about Benghazi and the IRS," says Holland. "

    As much as the republicans try, the American people realizes how dumb it is to blame the President on the Benghazi allegations. They can keep trying, but Obama's rating will only go higher. So in a way, it will only help Obama in the long run, and make republicans look bad by trying too hard to put the President down.

    May 20, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  22. MimiW

    Ha ha ha! Obama and Hillary are teflon!!! Get used to it GOP, no matter how to try to spin it, America still hates you.
    Hillary in 2016!!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  23. Ryan- Wisconsin

    Dear Libs – if your only cause is destroying republicans than be happy, but remember how we are all supposed to be Americans? I honestly think a lot of the left has gone off the cliff with a scripted profile of their opposition...its dangerous.

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. jay

    Guess the polling must be taken at college campuses with people in their teens and 20's.

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. mr

    CNN, I have nothing against Obama, but this 'breaking news' headline 'Most of you still like Obama' makes me feel like you've reached a new low in journalism. Time to start looking for other 'news' sources.

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13