CNN Poll: Likability helps Obama survive brutal week
May 20th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
2 years 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. Captain Awesome

    Two words: Plausible Deniability

    May 20, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  2. joep

    Yes, he is likable. I like the man, but I do not like his policies.

    May 20, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  3. Leslie Ann Warren

    Lmfbao.. Do Ya Thang President Obama.. Blessings!!

    May 20, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  4. CC

    here we go once again, liberals like CNN start spreading the LIKEABILITY, POLLS in favor of the :WORSE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES", I was lied twice but next time GO REP...

    May 20, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  5. Roninkc

    People still trust this president!!! how stupid can the American electorate be???

    May 20, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. Demigod Vadik, CA

    When you have no credibility like the GOP...

    ...nothing you say matters cause people just tune you out...

    May 20, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  7. Jeff in Virginia

    It wasn't a brutal week. CNN is guilty in helping Fox News push these smears on the administration. Where was this critical eye when Bush was president?

    May 20, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  8. antares201

    The public seems to be a LOT smarter about these so-called "scandals" than the media and the GOP who were hoping to bring down the president's approval ratings.

    May 20, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. rufus

    In other breaking news, CNN has learned that many people are still drinking large amounts of Kool-Aid. Forward, comrades!

    May 20, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  10. PeterD

    Actually President Obama is making sure that America will never ever elect a Black Presidnet in USA again and CNN is helping Obama to solidify his Point.

    May 20, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  11. ImIrish

    They obviously didn't poll my husband, me, my siblings, my in-laws, my friends, etc. I simply don't believe this. Either that, or America is accepting immorality and corruption as the norm. Very sad.

    May 20, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  12. Polar Bear

    No, "we" don't. Oh, that's right, you're talking about 53% or your definition of "most." The rest of us don't like him at all and think he is wrong for this country. If "most" of those 53% weren't getting hand outs from the government and the Dems weren't allowed to impede conservative groups and bolster liberal groups with governmental agencies, wewouldn't be having this conversation. But alas, it is what it is and "we," in the end, will pay dearly.

    May 20, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. ugh

    I don't know anyone how still likes him and all of my friends are democrats

    May 20, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. Jan

    Propaganda..who believes the polls...cnn is just covering up a cover up. Shame on you! He's in way over his head and cnn and nbc just keep proping him up. two words...Silent majority..........

    May 20, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. btchkmgi

    Wow, a CNN poll finds that most people like Obama ... I don't even have words!!! R O F F L

    May 20, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  16. crappygovernment

    Americans like Tebow more than Obama but #15 is being blackballed currently for his outspoken Christianity.

    May 20, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  17. Most of me

    Most of me still likes Obama? Well, let's see, my feet, my legs, my fists, my arms, my butt... yeah, okay, I guess most of me might still likes Obama.

    May 20, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  18. mk

    "Most of you still like Obama"...why don't you follow that brilliant headline up with "Most of you who read CNN are complete morons". Well done.

    May 20, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  19. Jim

    Hey!! It's the #1 rule. If you know it is bad, then say "I knew nothing about it." Happay! Happay! Happay!

    May 20, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  20. Aerin

    We Love You President Obama

    May 20, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  21. your mama

    If you voted for obama............

    May 20, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  22. btchkmgi

    CNN running a poll on Obama's favorability has as much credibility as McDonald's running a poll on whether people like eating fast food or not.

    May 20, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  23. Greg

    Most of us still like Obama? It has never been "most" of us. It's only 55%, a "thin majority" would have been more accurate. I'm sure if you poll CNN editors you would get "most" which probably explains the bias and delusion that went into writing this article.

    May 20, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  24. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    "Like" is about right. I don't have much in the way of high hopes for the President. I wouldn't take back my vote for him, but it's more a case of "better than the other guy." If the Republicans had put their support behind, say, Gary Johnson, they would have offered a real alternative, but...

    May 20, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  25. Mary ann

    58percent don't believe this poll

    May 20, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
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