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. Watchful eye

    They are still polling their favorite people – the ones that will answer in their favor.....not the ones that tell the truth. Where is my chance to say that we need more of a leader that works FOR the people? This comment will not make the CNN poll, or count against his popularity. Poll everyone, not just your safe niche. And, they delete what they don't want us to say!

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  2. Lynda/Minnesota

    "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."

    Oh, whatever, CNN. Such nonsense is truly remarkable, even for CNN.

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  3. Stephane

    Funny that I've never been asked.

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. Susie Brooker

    Shame on you CNN for making this your headline. This man is a complete con artist and just like the millions of victims out there being taken by his lies, you too have been. The biggest joke is that this administration uses the press as its pawns – knowing you won't actually do your job – and you have completely fallen for it. Even if this poll is true, I'm guessing is was taken at Berkeley in a room full of registered Democrats.

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  5. ipso facto

    The way this is trending when the next scandal breaks the President's likability rating will be over 100%.

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  6. Neal

    Polls are absolutely useless. Here's a poll – 100% of households polled rate ALL CURRENT POLITICIANS AS USELESS. 100% of households polled rate RUPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS AS UNTRUSTWORTHY. Margin of error is 0% with a 0% spread. Household consists of one conducted on behalf of a truly disinterested party in politics. Again I argue that politicians should NOT be voted on...all age-qualified, non-felon Americans should have their names entered into a national raffle and be placed according to their draw – one term limit and NO LIFETIME BENEFITS above and beyond that realized by the average American.

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  7. Danielle

    Bob – I support him and know plenty who do.

    IB Colorado – That's a funny statement since more Obama supporters actually have more higher education, opposed to Romney supporters. Just sayin'.....

    May 20, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  8. outlawgodsucks

    LOL!!! Thanks for the comic relief CNN! Favorable, Obama, LOL!!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. tyler

    Hahahaha....I don't believe this at all. More and more people are waking up and realizing just how toxic republicans/democrats are for this country.

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. JC

    Who cares how likeable he is. His administration is going into shambles and now his comments about running "the most transparent administration" are looking not just ridiculous but delusional. Or is that pathological...

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. Jerry M Andering

    ...and the CNN propaganda machine continues again.. DAMAGE CONTROL DAMAGE CONTROL!

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  12. M

    He Is a whole lot betta then the nutjobs who banrupted the country's soul and are loafing around at our expense

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  13. mk1

    To us the tea party and the GOP are the biggest obstacles to progress in America. The last five years have shown their true anti American colors and they certainly aren't pretty. If the two parties had worked together as they had in the past we would be out of economic danger and well on our way to a prosperous country again. The GOP should be ashamed, but we know they aren't, they have no shame.

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  14. P

    Well, isn't that a sweet relief to CNN and all the other water-carriers and cover-providers. If you clowns had done your damn jobs to begin with, in 2007 or so, we migh...ah, screw it. I'm tired of saying it, and the people who need to hear it most won't listen or care.

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. judith

    Of course those of us who support Obama still support him. We recognize a partisan witch hunt when we see on. Hillary also will remain quite popular and will easy beat any of the dreadful GOP wannabees if she runs in 2016. Rand Paul's whining and Michelle Bachmann's spewing insanity demonstrates the weakness of the tea-party types–just let them keep yacking!

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  16. Grinning Libber

    "Nobody in their right mind believes these polls"<<<"that's what mitt said too" LOL.
    The only ones who believe these phony scandals are the same tracksuits who hate POTUS OBAMA 24/7.

    May 20, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. Mike

    You guys that think Obama isn't popular need to get out more. The majority of the population live in urban areas, not rural conservative territory. Can't say I agree with everything he does or believes in but he is intelligent and progressive, which people in the city tend to like.

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

    Ok, whatever makes you feel better. Do people really buy this stuff?

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

    Its a AMAZING that Bush never got this kind of flack eventhough under his leadership you had the bubble busrting on his watch, had a war with Iraq.......Its a shame that a people want to say that this or the other but its really about his skin color

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

    When they have articles from the press like this all the time, the fact that he is considered "likeable" is not surprising. And his wife is beautiful........right. Truth is Obama came to office flaunting Chicago style politics: Rham Emanuel (as his Chief of Staff) was even stated as having screaming matches with members of Congress in the showers. This style of behavior (starting with pushing Obamacare through without GOP input) has led to one of the most partisan governments in memory. Yes, he would like you to believe it is the emergence of the tea party-but this is not the case. Obama is not a leader, and far from likeable.

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Republicans have worked non-stop to reach the point of no return.
    They have arrived.
    They have eroded their credibility and likeability to the level of their bloggers on this site.
    And that ain't much!

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  22. Sarah

    As a 24 year old woman who counts herself as liberal in some areas, and conservative in others, I have to say that I am absolutely disgusted by the Obama administration, and with the latest DOJ pursuit of journalist James Rosen as a "spy", I've reached my limit of idiocy. Obama, the transparency of your administration is laughable, and while my opinion of you when you first came into office was fair, at this point I believe your only mission seems to be to run this country into the ideological ground. Stop taking away our freedoms.

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  23. Mike O

    Propaganda at its finest. Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Furher. All hail our socialist dictator, all hail Obama!

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  24. Bo

    Why do we need continual polls and breaking news updates to tell us that Obama is still our favored king? A basic statistics course shows that whomever makes the polls gets their results. Ever hear a con-man tell you something over and over until it becomes reality? Stop it already. The country our Founders built up has been taken apart and the foundations are now being removed.

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  25. Glennis

    I seriously doubt those numbers, but if they are true, then the population has been dumbed down beyond all help.

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
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