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. Thomas Defferson

    Please like our president! He's not THAT bad. Come on! Here, if we shove this headline in your face, it will detract from his criminal activity.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. tom

    I think sanford and son would do a better job in office than those two idiots. you big dummy

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. snowdogg

    bob... look in the mirror to see somebody full of crap

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. Jimmy Le

    "You catch more flies with honey..."

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. James

    Only those right wing wackos care about nonsense. Anything to stir the pot instead of focusing on moving this country forward.

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  6. bob

    Hillary has a hard chin, her husband got a BJ from a girl young enough to be her daughter, and then he lied about it. I guess she favors her "political" career more than her marriage vows. More Democrap.

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  7. KRBS

    Regular comment/response section is disabled?! I figured; it is why I clicked on the article!

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  8. Alex

    Yo, seriously CNN? You expect this to be believable? Gimmee a break. Booo, booo, booo.

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  9. Neurotoxin

    Media polls are garbage to start with, and they've been getting increasingly less representative in recent years as the rise of internet media and other alternative sources takes entire demographics out of their sample. Obama isn't as unpopular as Fox News and other conservative pundits depict him – but there is simply no way these numbers are accurate either. This is turning into a propaganda war where media outlets intentionally report inaccuracies skewed in the direction they favor; and the result will be the death of the mainstream media as more Americans seek alternatives. Keep digging your own grave, CNN.

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  10. dorsh44

    I'd have a beer with him sure.

    Certainly would NOT have him running the country though. Are you crazy!

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

    Who are they polling....the audience of "The View"?

    May 20, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  12. 2 Km N of G Zero

    Those of you who don't believe these polls should complain about it in the bubble world of Fox News...
    Oh right...you aren't allowed...

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  13. goodlogic

    Like we got a better option. Its a shame the bright people of our country don't take up careers in politics. We are stuck with Sarah Palin as options.

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  14. Bryan

    That's how they roll in Chicagoland. Obama said he would "transform Washington"...you thought he meant things would get better, but he really meant things would be more like Chicagoland.

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  15. Kevin A.

    Not all of us still like him. Some of us have regrets about voting for him. I hope he gags on the genetically food Monsanto will help to produce.

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. bright518

    This is CNN'sheadline news! Major scandals continue to unfold and major weather disasters in the making and CNN is excited that "most" people (according to its tiny poll) think Obama is likable and Hillary still has high rating. This really does read like a Democrat-run media source!

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  17. Words

    What is not to like? Scandals, dishonesty, corruption, incompetence, massive debt, lawlessness, guns to Mexican drug cartel without accountability, weapons to Muslim Brotherhood, 4 people dead in Benghazi to coverup gun running out of the consulate to Islamic jihadist in Syria, tax audits of Romney supporters and tea party, and pro-Israel groups. Wonderful It is like 3 Watergates, and an Iran-contra all at the same time and the American people don't even care. Its over.

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. Boater39

    Sorry, Bob... You just DID--> *I* approve of what Obama is doing. I just wish our obstructionist GOP congress would let him do more.

    May 20, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  19. Marly

    I like him, so I guess I am in the 79%.

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  20. phtm12

    This is the top news link? A popularity poll staged by CNN to try to spin some fake positive buzz amid all the scandals.

    Pathetic

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  21. waitaminute

    What a crock. CNN has lost the last brain cell they had.

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  22. CTConservative

    "Ra.. Ra.. Shish Boom Bah" Way to go CNN. Never mind news and facts. You guys are awesome cheerleaders !

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  23. PIZAN

    What is wrong with the American Public???? So sad!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  24. kalin

    Bob you clearly don't speak for the masses. Plenty of people, myself included, approve of what the President is doing. It's a real shame that he is blame for every single problem with the United States. He meets opposition with the GOP no matter what his policy is. It's just disgusting.

    May 20, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. Name

    I wonder how much CNN was paid by Obama to write this article? 58 percent say he's a strong leader? Seriously? On what planet? My 5 year old could do a better job than Obama.

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
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