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. JR

    Click on the link to the poll (at the beginning of this article) and you will also learn that 34% of the folks who participated in the poll had not even HEARD of Attorney General Eric Holder as recently as May 17-18.

    May 20, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. JJ

    Too funny. Low information voters strike again.

    May 20, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  3. rat on the ship

    the most basic truth is still the the most damning 51% of americans are buying chinese made ipods the other 49% well are there any bullets at walmart? no... thought not sorry to spit in your kool aid cnn

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  4. NorCalMojo

    Obama didn't even know he appointed Hillary and Holder until he read about it in the headlines. They just slipped a stack of papers to him and said "sign these."

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  5. Al

    I can't say that I like this guy, but the people that are getting something from the tax payers are more than likely the ones that like this guy.

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "And that is because most of you are misinformed since the media twists any story to favor Obama and make the GOP look bad..."

    Riiiiiight...it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the GOP/Teatrolls' "make him a one-term president" behavior making themselves look bad...naw...couldn't be that at all. And certainly not the 70+ years of bigotry and misogyny that the GOP/Teatrolls are pretending suddenly don't exist, despite consistently failing at their "outreach" efforts because their racism, bigotry and misogyny just keep on popping up like the groundhog from Caddyshack. No no...it's not at all a policy, ideology and platform problem for the GOP/Teatrolls. They're perfectly fine and don't need to change at all. I can't tell you how glad I am that you think that and that it's the prevailing mindset that continues throughout the GOP/Teatrolls. Please proceed.

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  7. Thomas

    @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.
    ============
    You talked to all 1200 people in your twown ?
    What is your Zip or Area code ?
    I want to call and ask for myself.

    @n222s , do you work for a non profit for profit ??

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  8. jolson818@hotmail.com

    Include me OUT!!

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  9. Kile

    So, apparently, most people are stupid.

    May 20, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  10. daniel

    PLEASE TELL ME YOU ARE KIDDING!

    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 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  11. antares201

    @Jeff in Virginia. THANK YOU.

    May 20, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  12. Indy63

    Likeable person, awful president.

    May 20, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  13. Kenny

    Wow! CNN is spinning this poll.

    Is honest and trustworthy: down to 58% from a high of 74%. Highest "No" on record at 41%

    Is a strong and decisive leader: Down to 58% from a high of 80%

    36% of respondents never heard of Eric Holder. 58% have never heard of Darrell Isa

    Obama's Biggest Supporters are Minorities with no college who make less than 50K a year.

    But Don't take my word or CNN's read the poll.

    May 20, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  14. wade

    Now we learn the the White House council the PRESIDENTS LAYER knew about the IRS scandals WEEKS before and they expect us the American people to believe that a story this BIG was never told to the Chief of staff and the president! Now of course CNN does not report the proof of Obama's lies as it would be news and hurt Obama two things CNN is opposed to doing.

    May 20, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  15. Nonsense

    @Danielle:
    "IB Colorado – That's a funny statement since more Obama supporters actually have more higher education, opposed to Romney supporters. Just sayin'....."
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Sources to back your assertion please?

    May 20, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. AMaC

    Anyone that thinks he is the worst president have never read their history.

    Or quite possibly, can't read.

    May 20, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. Brad

    Now show us the Repub Congress likeability poll, then maybe the crybaby Repubs will shut their mouths

    May 20, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  18. bill

    The GOP started a false war with Iraq and killed thousands of American troops, they killed the economy and drove this country into the Great Recession, the GOP also killed every legislative attempt by Congress to clean up the mess they created under dubya, the GOP killed the banking, mortgage and financial service sectors, the GOP and NRA have essentially killed children with adequate gun laws and background checks – I don't think there is any way we'll let the GOP mess this country up again in the near future

    May 20, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  19. zaqaz

    But of course; everyone likes Santa Claus!!

    May 20, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  20. honey

    What an ignorant racist remark. Well I guess that means we should be looking to elect anything other than another white president because MANY of them have screwed up this country since the beginning and we can start with jughead BUSH.

    May 20, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  21. LiberalNutCase

    What's a lousy story like this doing on the front page? Doesn't the Celebrity News Network have any pap about Lindsey Lohan?

    May 20, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  22. Cindy

    What do we expect from CNN? Funny how not one person I know here in Charlotte, NC had ever been polled. Any American who is paying attention to what is going on and the demise of our country would not have voted positively in this rigged poll.

    May 20, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  23. j williamson

    Include me OUT!!

    May 20, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  24. Danita

    This is so funny... CNN should be working at the White House... Either most of us are stupid or CNN is telling a fat lie...

    May 20, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  25. Ancient Texan

    The media spins counterclockwise to please Obama and the Pollsters get exactly the result they want. It's all in the wording of the question.

    May 20, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
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