Second-term polls: How do Obama and Clinton compare?
May 20th, 2013
11:21 AM ET
5 years ago

Second-term polls: How do Obama and Clinton compare?

(CNN) - A second term Democratic president, battling back against series of controversies.

Sound familiar?

President Barack Obama is facing a political situation not altogether unlike what the last Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton, experienced during his second term.

For Obama it's the controversies over the Internal Revenue service's targeting of tea party and other conservative groups who applied for tax exempt status, the administration's handling and reaction to last September's attack in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead, and the Justice Department's secret collection of phone records from the Associated Press as part of a government investigation into classified leaks.

According to a new national poll, even though a majority of Americans take all three matters very seriously, Obama appears to have come out of what was arguably the worst week of his presidency with his approval rating holding steady.

According to the CNN/ORC International survey, which was conducted Friday and Saturday, 53% of Americans say 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 last poll, which was conducted in early April. The two point rise is well within the survey's sampling error.

Now flash back to 1998 when President Clinton–following 1997's campaign finance controversy of improper fundraising and Chinese contributions–was dealing with an emerging scandal over a sexual relationship he had in his first term with a 22-year old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

When the scandal first broke, at the beginning of 1998, Clinton's approval rating in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll stood at 59%.

"With regard to Clinton's approval rating, the key moment was his State of the Union speech in January, 1998, shortly after the Lewinsky scandal broke. His approval rating jumped ten points, to 69%, after that speech, and it stayed above 60% throughout his impeachment," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

"That speech presented Clinton as on the job and ready to solve the country's problems, and congressional Republicans looked bad by contrast. Add to Clinton's high approval ratings the fact that the GOP lost five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections, and it seems clear in retrospect that politically played their hand."

After House Republicans impeached the president in December 1998, Clinton's approval rating soared to 73% and stood at 68% two months later, when the Senate acquitted him.

Clinton finished out his second term and left office in January 2001 with a 66% approval rating in CNN/Gallup/USA Today polling.

- CNN's Tim McCaughan contributed to this report.

soundoff (303 Responses)
  1. Jerry

    As a President, i would have to give it to clinton. Although neither one is any good at it..

    May 20, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  2. achepotle

    I think Obama is a better was a big job turning nthe economy around and headed to prosperity!

    May 20, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  3. Paul

    So President Obama needs to sleep with an intern then Republicans will start liking him like they hated Clinton at first, but now like him?

    May 20, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  4. Matt

    Richard Long, you are 100% correct!

    May 20, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  5. Can You Believe It

    Who cares how a definitely-manipulated CNN poll rates Obama or Clinton for that matter. Both came to the White House as inexperienced idealist revolutionaries, and ended up as miserable failures as presidents. These are arrogant men of no substance or character – the only thing that keeps them relevant is a rabid liberal media that is woefully fooled.

    May 20, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  6. Ooga Booga

    You keep on publishing these misleading and unrepresentative polls, it isn't going to save the current administration from being completely disgraced. These polls are admittedly 25% conservatives, 33% liberals, which doesn't mirror the actual makeup of the USA. A recent Gallup poll shows that 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative; 35 percent consider themselves moderate; and 21 percent see themselves as liberal. So why not adjust the poll to show the actual political demographics of the country rather than some self-fulfilling vision of what CNN wants the country to be? No, wait, that would be actual journalism, not something CNN is famous for.

    May 20, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  7. Pete

    Rick the difference between the two is Clinton in his second term told republicans in Speaker Gingrich and others either work with me or you'll get nothing passed by me,simple as that he put his foot down. Pres.Obamas got to do the same..Republicans only respond to force against them and if Pres.Obama does flex his political muscles you'll see Boehner,McConnell most certainly back down ..They know he doesn't like confrontations ,political,otherwise and is the only diplomatic one on Capital Hill and you know it..So remember when posters exclaim that Pres.Obamas the only ADULT in the room republicans obviously know it!!

    May 20, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  8. JustaGuy

    Obama has done at least one thing in his favor and that is by opening up the immigration flood gates he has assured himself and easy, get away with anything presidency due to all the ignorant immigrants voting blindly for democrats without even knowing the issues or platforms on which they run other that the " All are welcome to the U.S. as long as you vote democrat" platform / issue. Way to go OB !!

    May 20, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  9. Dave

    Obama is the worst president of all time. How can you do a comparison with this liar? No doubt about it. CNN is starting it's own cover up scandal by lying about the poll numbers. Wake up sheepel. Your freedoms will disappear sooner or later, if you don't.

    May 20, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  10. peterz

    If compared to the Republican houses today and yesterday, the same looked like they did not worked for the interest of american ?

    May 20, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  11. n222s

    Polls are polls and can be manipulated. However, the opinion of the American people does not mean the President's admin is pure and clean. The IRS did target conservative groups, conservative Christian groups and tea parties. They admitted it. Whether you choose to believe it began and ended with two employees after the IRS admited it informed higher ups of the problem is up to you. The fact that the IRS was used by someone to target anyone is dangerous.

    Benghzi matters because it speaks to the politicization of foreign policy decisions and whether what is coming from the White House can always be trusted. If you don't care that the facts were distorted for political purposes is up to you. Was there more to it? We'll find out.

    AP and targeting report James Rosen. The fact that Justice Department's rules weren't followed is admitted by Justice. If this doesn't bother you, then okay.

    If you can believe that Holder knew nothing about any of these scandals, good for you. If you feel that only two employees were solely responsible for IRS targeting, okay. And if you think it is okay to mislead the public about Benghazi causes, fine.

    However, remember, the precedent isn't dangerous because "Obama is bad" or other such nonsense. It is dangerous because, say, in 20 years someone may come along and truly be evil and use your blind trust against you. Blind trust you have because that person has a D or an R next to their name.

    May 20, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  12. Newport Pagnell

    What exactly are people approving of? Free stuff I guess.

    May 20, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. Alan

    "Rise above it" as the song is entitled in the 1988 story about the Jamacan Bobsled Team. That's my advice to President Obama. Get both Pelosi and Reid to keep bringing up the Jobs bill, immigration bill, tax reform bill and assistance for families who experienced and are facing foreclosure (rebating the fines collected from the Banks to the families) and NEVER STOP. If the Republicans in the House can bring up and keep passing repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, without having the intelligence to work a compromise amendment to it, then the Democrats should follow the same tact however instead passing legislation that the American Public cares about. Then see if the media will publish a list side by side of the legislation that the Republican House passes against the legislation that the Democratic Senate passes.

    May 20, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  14. Goodman

    The GOP will keep breaking the country from now and forever! They are not up to the interests of the great country but to their selfish interests! Shame on GOP!

    May 20, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  15. Malory Archer


    Amazing how the American public views its politicians, especially the Liberal vs Conservative. If this was going on while a Republican was in office the yelling and screaming would be deafening! But seeing how as it is a Democrat things seem on an even keel! AMAZING!


    Chet, please see ak_steve's 11:51 a.m. post above your's. 'nuff said.

    May 20, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  16. ST

    No one likes scandal,s BUT if they are helping the President contrary to what republicans expected, I would rather see them manufacture more of it.

    May 20, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  17. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Barack Obama: Community Organizer
    PRESIDENT Barack Hussein Obama effectively and intelligently utilized his communtiy organizing skills to organize one of his largest successes to date: the United States of America. We stood as an organized community not once but TWICE behind him to move our country FORWARD against the almost insurmountable obstruction of the Party of Personal and Corporate Greed.
    It is just too bad that the "community organizer" is barred from running for a third term that he would be asssured of hands down.

    May 20, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  18. Al-NY,NY


    I question the validity of this poll, and would like more detail into their methodology.

    is that because it doesn't fit your viewpoint? if it said Obama's ratings were tanking, would you be screaming "see how bad Obama is?" as a validation of the results?

    May 20, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Rick McDaniel wrote

    ... The main difference, was that Clinton worked with Congress, and Obama will not allow anything through Congress that is not something he wants. ....
    The ridiculous accusations from the right wing are truly the stuff of legend. You're projecting and confabulating.

    May 20, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...Meanwhile the GOP couldn't even organize a decent "Tea Party".
    Stick that in your pot and sip it.

    May 20, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  21. GS

    Your poll is as worthless as this administration.

    May 20, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  22. Brandon

    I don't know what's wrong with Republicans these days. I remember the last 5 years. They stubbornly refused to work with Obama on every issue. Now they cynically try to turn every little thing into a top-down scandal (as if the public wouldn't know the difference). I remember the Clinton years and they seemed vitriolic, but they seem really rosy in retrospect.

    May 20, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  23. wade

    You notice they did not tell you in this story that BUSH was doing as well or better than Obama at this point in his second term. They want to leave out the facts that Bush was more popular than Obama at the same point in his presidency. No liberal bias here though. RIGHT!

    May 20, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  24. Terry Clark

    I am still waiting to hear what Bush and Cheney knew about 9/11 – the Commission was only created to study securing the country not to investigate incompetence or wrong-doing on the part of the administration – the use of torture, and the lies that led to Iraq. Let's cover these controversies in chronological order. Journalists no longer serve the public, they serve the advertiser.

    May 20, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  25. yuri

    But BHO does not seem to suffer from a moral setback, Clinton appeared to. It was Clinton's own and willful act of violation of WH ethics in the west wing itself. Clinton also had his own set of skeletons in his closet, right from his gubernatorial days in Arkansas. Paula Jones and Jennifer Flowers (me thinks) were his nemeses.

    May 20, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
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