CNN Poll: Likability helps Obama survive brutal week
May 20th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
11 months 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. ginaswork

    A "likeability poll" is what CNN considers top news on their website today given all the madness that's going on in Wahshington today?? ... What a joke.

    May 20, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    @McBob79: Incompetent? Then why is bin Laden dead, GM alive, the housing market on the rebound, unemployment down (private sector job growth every month since March 2010), we're out of Iraq and getting out of Afghanistan, reinvesting in our nation's infrastructure and the stock market is soaring?

    May 20, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  3. stevepic14

    And yet the media gave the GOP flack for electing a president we'd want to have a beer with? Now Watergate 2.0 is upon the horizon and we're cutting Obama slack because he's "likable?" Double standard, much?

    Wiretaps, threats & criminalization of reporters just doing their jobs (Woodward & Rosen respectively) and politically motivated IRS audits on top of that? And the President just plays dumb throughout the entire thing? This has gone well beyond Watergate, my friends.

    May 20, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  4. barbara

    I guess these people approving of him like liars!

    May 20, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  5. doug

    CNN is a puppet. fines from the health care bill will take away the tax returns then lets see how happy his sheep are.

    May 20, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  6. Briana

    923 people surveyed.. out of how many million people that live in the US? How can that even be anywhere close to accurate enough to qualify as Breaking News?

    May 20, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  7. jackiecox

    cnn will say or print anything as long it does not present actual truth. the entire country are well aware we are a nation under occupation by criminality who gained power with an election fraud so massive as to disable investigative efforts, the voting clan given 7 days of voting without having to show ID is a bizarre element, making the ballot box an insignificant element of government, the resulting citizens arming up will not have to face white or hispanic america in whatever government agency are ordered to enforce the deformed laws enacted to bring our nation down, Afroamerica will not pass

    May 20, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  8. Jim

    Legalize what you are smoking! WOW This President is worst than Richard Nixon ever thought about being and everyone in the country knows it now. He just moves from one lie to the next. Shucking and jiving at it's best.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  9. KingsCrew

    Idiots. there is no way this is true.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  10. Divdar

    This is breaking news???

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  11. n222s

    Look, these polls are adults of voting age, not likely midterm voters. Ever see comedy talk shows do man on the street interviews. Most of the people walking around have no clue as to what is going on. It is boring to them and they have little interest in affairs of the day.

    Just remember, blind faith in any leader is dangerous. No. I don't think Obama will do anything evil. However, this blind faith in anyone who has a D or an R next to their name will enable them to use that faith against the people. Not Obama but some nutjob in the future.

    Bush's policies weren't questioned enough from the right. Can the left really say they have looked at Obama and his policies with the same scrutiny given Bush? YES, the right has scrutinized Obama and YES they should have questioned Bush more.

    Should that dereliction of citizen duty regarding Bush mean Obama should be given a pass by the left?

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  12. Zenger Folkman

    Of course American voters still like Obama, GOPers! What alternatives do you have that are better? Cain? Cantor? Ryan? Romney? Mc Connell? Bachmann? little Bush? Rubio? Cruz? Don't make us laugh!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  13. Curtis

    It may be true that most people still like Obama, but it's also true that MOST news agencies, like CNN, have not reported accurately and enthusiastically the truth about the corrupt obama regime.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  14. lB Colorado

    Obama is a very likable person, he has personality plus and is savvy. His policies and his ideas of where to take this country – not so much. I am sure that the poll says – do you like Obama, most people will say yes. If they are asked, are you happy with the way the country is heading – you might not get such "high five" rating. Obama should go into acting, he would do very well and would be quite wealthy – not that he is not already – just saying. He would look good on the "red" carpet, but not the "white" carpet.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  15. abrahambenjudea

    this CNN poll is worthless

    Interviews with 923 adult Americans conducted by telephone by ORC International on May 17-18, 2013
    This so called news poll is nothing but a RAH, RAH, RAH, for Mr. O...a damage control piece...
    I won't drink the cool aid, you do it.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  16. doug

    moderation really??? free press my foot! more like gov. ran.

    May 20, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  17. Jeremy

    As an Obama voter who's been disillusioned by his similarity to the previous regime on civil liberties and the questionable drone use, I was a bit surprised to see this. I think it's mostly a reflection of the fact that for all the flaws we've come to realize Obama has, the other party remains extremely off-putting to a large number of people. Or perhaps, more cynically, the two parties have reduced the choice between them to something that most folks view the way they do sports teams. Just as a Packers fan, no matter how bad a season they endure, won't jump ship to support the Bears, a "fan" of the Democrats will not jump over to the Republicans no matter how bad an administration their "team" is presiding over.

    For what it's worth, I'll just enjoy surveys like this for one reason – I enjoy watching either side get apoplectic over polling data they just can't accept. Be it the predictable responses of "see, most people are stupid," or "these polls are obviously flawed, unlike the ones I'm about to cite," or the classic non-sequitur personal attack on this particular POTUS, it's all very entertaining.

    And at the risk of digressing too much... I wish Bloom County and Kurt Vonnegut were both still around to comment on the irony that Obama critics slam him both for being a secret Muslim, with Sharia law supporting Muslim Brotherhood cronies, and for supporting things like marriage equality. That contradiction amuses me to no end. Of course, I'd also like to see them hold his feet to the fire for the phone tapping, clear IRS corruption, and the aforementioned drone BS.

    May 20, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  18. Chris

    So far I've found NO ONE in my little town of 1200 that was polled. We are pretty much fed up with this person posing as a President for all.

    May 20, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  19. Sarah/VA

    Shame on you CNN does Tapper & Blitzer has more breaking news?maybe they should check the emails before they deceive the public,LIARS Republican lawmakers LIARS

    May 20, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  20. The Eternal Satyr

    I can't wait for the next Repugnican pResident and the bread and circuses that will follow.

    Step right up! Step right up! You love him! You hate him! He's the pResident! The Great 'Murikan Scapegoat! He may/may not be responsible for everything good/bad that happens in this country AND he's likable!

    May 20, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  21. Greg Faith

    And do you wanted to be audited if you don't like him?

    May 20, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  22. George

    This is the best you could come up with? I don't see one comment of support for CNN on this story. And who the heck are you polling to get those numbers, the projects people?

    May 20, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  23. Independent Voter

    The GOP "Can't scandal the truth."

    May 20, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  24. Zenger Folkman

    @WatchfulEye: So who is this "leader that works FOR the people" that YOU would propose. Don't make us laugh, now!

    May 20, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  25. Erik

    Funny. Most of the blogs from the right don't appear angry, rather gleeful.

    May 20, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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