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. OldSchool

    Breaking News: majority of people still reasonable despite all efforts by chemically imbalanced conservative zealots.

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  2. st

    likable but inept

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. Dblduce

    You have to be kidding! How much did the Obama admin pay you guys to this story?

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

    I think these "poll results" are a phony piece of propaganda issued from the White House....I don't believe this at all. Can you prove these numbers CNN??

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. jnpa

    @Bob – Nobody in their right mind believes these polls. I have not heard one person approve of Obama since he came on the scene and was supposed to be the man to get rid of all the racism.
    -----------------------------------------------------
    You have not heard one person approve of Obama? You must be kidding! OMG, you must work in a totally big business environment who surrounds himself with totally conservative friends. You should get out more!

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  6. J King

    In light of ALL the scandal that this administration has orchestrated....THIS is your front page "breaking news"??

    Journalism is truly dead at CNN

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  7. vonrik

    Gee...9% of Americans just got a lot dumber thinking the tea party is a smart choice...I hate loser in this country...This country for the birds....

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. Peyton

    @Jimkon – You forgot Kid Rock.

    May 20, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  9. bob

    I hated his guts 5 years ago, and that has not changed. I would like to see him impeached and deported.

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  10. DirtyHeat

    Gotta love the damage control attempt here by the media. This is front page news to CNN why?

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. chris

    Absolutely unbelievable polls. This is why the press has no credibility. CNN, FOX all of them. No way Obama is anywhere near this.

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. NorCalMojo

    Pretty funny. Voter apathy has turned into outright willful ignorance.

    President Passerby may be irrelevant, but he seems like such a nice man.

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    quit polling everyone in Harlem and Detroit and start polling people that actually pay taxes and have a job!!

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  14. Chris

    I love it how the right wing continues to whine about how these polls are so biased and so inaccurate and then in the elections, they end up not only being proven true, but in fact they always overcompensate in favor of the right wing.

    The country is becoming more liberal and more progressive. Deal with it.

    May 20, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  15. john

    You are freaking nuts to write this crap !!!! He needs TO GO NOW !!!! He is killing whats left of this country !!!!!!

    Shame on you CNN

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. otlset

    Likability? C'mon, nobody likes a liar.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  17. liberal disease

    she holds a favorable rating for for failure, 100%..CNN you are a sad sad company...

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  18. d j

    CNN..... Haha this network is completely useless. And the polls are bunk. Anybody with any brain cells knows Obama is corrupt.... Maybe the brain dead idiots that only watch Dancing with honey booboo and Kardashians still like Obama.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  19. Guy

    CNN Mission Statement – Defend Obama at all costs. No matter what.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  20. g2-905257bd38bc057113204f1456f11134

    this hasn't affected Obama because we know it is just over-inflated and made-up scandal by the highly ineffective GOP. They didn't get elected because of their obismal policies and statements, and they haven't done crap except hold up progress for years, and now they want to create more scandal and continue doing nothing productive? Wow, is the GOP tone-deaf to how they appear or what?

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. Ron

    It's a obama-CNN poll. The poll is certainly questionable and skewed. Such as CNN.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. papaduke

    Look who's taking the polls Obama supporters CNN and then make up your minds

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. Brad

    Really, what is the sample base – the Naivety Club of America? Look he either knew, in which case he is lying OR he should have known much sooner than he did – which means he does not have control or what it going, his staff is completely incompetent (any staff that would let him find out first through the media should be fired). Either case does not bode well for this President.

    BTW : Likeable does not mean competent or right

    Now its coming out in the AP phone scandal story that the DOJ had labeled one reporter as a criminal conspirator – his crime – reporting the story.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  24. edussaurus

    Obama is doing very well, particularly considering the GOP only wants to destroy his presidency!

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. John LOL

    Polls must of been taken from same source who conducted "90% approval on universal background checks"

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
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