Second-term polls: How do Obama and Clinton compare?
May 20th, 2013
11:21 AM ET
11 months 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. sly

    President Obama and President Clinton have earned the high approval ratings by working hard, working smart, and leading America towards economic success.

    Our deficit is shrinking, our jobless rate is headed from 9% to 5%, and the stock market is soaring to 16,000. We have vast oil reserves that mean we no longer will be dependant on Arab Oil, thus no need for any more Bush Oil Wars.

    President Obama killed America's greatest enemy and has prevented any major terrorist attacks on our soil.

    All this in the face of a negative, rejection-oriented Republican party that has failed to implement ANYTHING in the past 5 years.

    Thank you Mr. President. There is a reason for your popularity, and like Clinton, you will remain popular long after your Presidency ends.

    May 20, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  2. scooter

    The President with the single largest drop in approval, in the history of polling, was Ronald Reagan falling from 67% to 46% in 1986 after the disclosure of his Administrations selling of missiles to Iran as ransom for hostages in Lebanon. However by the time he left office his approval was back to 64% that is only slightly less than Bill Clintons exiting poll numbers.

    May 20, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  3. smartaz

    Clinton was a much better leader than Obama. It isn't even close.

    May 20, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. just askin

    how can you compare a totally incompetent president with a totally competent president? people are just afraid of holding obama responsible for his incompetence because they don't want to be attacked as racists like you always ss on this board. obama went into teaching and politics because he couldn't have possibly made it in the private sector with this level of incompetence.

    May 20, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. Christian Grey

    If you wanted a booming economy you should have voted for Romney…fools you would be working for a good wage right now. BTY who is the middle class that your man is helping the only money he has given out goes to the poor. That does not help anyone just enslaves them more. You all that think your so smart are really clueless

    May 20, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "Clinton did not pontificate like this current president."

    Please. Clinton preached as well. There's just a very large group of people in the country who were willing to hear it from a white dude with a hint of southern drawl as opposed to having to listen to it coming from The Uppity One.

    May 20, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  7. Brad

    I remember republicans constantly questioning the presidential election polls of Nate Silver, saying he was biased, blah blah blah. They so believe in their own little bubble that Mitt was convinced he was going to win right until Ohio was called by Fox News for Obama. Watching the Fox News team chastise Rove for his complete suspension of reality and that Ohio could still go for Mitt was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

    May 20, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    President Obama complemented a friend and attorney on her good looks in a friendly way and the GOPT were ready to call for impeachment hearings on the President's character and integrity. But the same teapublicans embraced and defended Mr. Sanford. Do as I say, don't do as I do! In America there's always different rules and different measuring stick for African-Americans! The more successful we are, the more envy and jealous the bigoted racist right wingers become! Well, enjoy your ulcers for four more years!

    May 20, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  9. Avishek

    Obama is doing a great job in a very very difficult time...

    May 20, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Mike

    All this shows is that you can indeed fool some people ALL the time. Anyone buying Obama's b.s. are the same ones who wouldn't buy Bush's b.s. They are partisan hacks who will back Obama even if he dropped a nuke on London. They don't follow the actual facts of anything and simply rubber stamp this moron's Presidency with approval because he is black, can speak very well (ie. LIE) when given a teleprompter, and gives away trillions to people who don't want to work.
    Anyone who thinks different is simply ignorant enough to believe anything.

    May 20, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  11. cjis121399

    I read this yesterday and I believe at the bottom of the article it stated that there were approximately 950 something people polled. Do one that involves the opinions of say.. 250 million people, then I would consider it a fair poll.

    May 20, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. Chris

    Only republican half-wits think that Benghazi, the IRS, etc are anything but trumped-up mountains out of molehills. They'll probably keep telling each other how smart they are and how poorly the president is fairing – all the way to their next rout in the presidential elections.

    May 20, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. anonymous

    TONY
    Can you detail why Obama is the worst President of all times,
    ---

    Seriously??? If you have to ask this ridiculous question after 4.5 years of this failure, there is no way you will comprehend the response detailing why he is the worse President of all times, BAR NONE. Please just take another sip of koolaide and enjoy your unemployment check.

    May 20, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  14. Donna

    I can hardly wait for all these polls after the train wreck called Obamacare hits the American people in full. Of course the pollsters will simply poll all the people receiving free government healthcare so I'm sure everything will again look great for Obama.

    May 20, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. sally-ann

    By Nov 2014 all the wars will be over, all the poor will have heath care ,and tens of millions of people will be getting generous tax subsidies to help pay for health care premiums, unemployment will be down to pre Bush levels, and the deficit will be down to manageable levels.

    May 20, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  16. J

    Who takes these polls? They never call anyone I know...I get the feeling they don't call anyone but the same group of people over and over. Why not try getting an actual accurate account of how people feel about Obama...take a look at FB it definitely isn't 50%...

    May 20, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  17. CosmicC

    I don't think the IRS profiling of teaparty orgs is any more valid than the right wing profiling of dark-skinned people. While some teaparty groups were intentionally trying to see how far they could push the envelop, those that were not were invalidly penalized. While some Spanish speaking people are illegal immigrants, not all are. While some arabs are terrorists, not all are. No matter how you cut it, profiling is wrong. However, I think in balance, depriving an individual of due process is far worse than delaying an application for tax-exempt status by a political organization.

    May 20, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. Chris

    "and gives away trillions to people who don't want to work."

    Ah, Mike – clearly you refer to the GOP congress, that has handed over close to that sum to corporate interests over the last decade, and fiercely defend their corporate owners' interests. On the other hand, entitlements barely amount to 500K annually. In other words, your projections are, oh, 4000 times off the actual numbers. Sorry, you just failed math again.

    May 20, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  19. TONY

    @NO TRESPASSING
    My opinion about these guys are both great Presidents that love the American people unlike their GOP counterparts who hate America.

    May 20, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  20. Stimpy69

    Just goes to show you your polls are way off.

    May 20, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  21. Dean

    Clinton's problems were personal problems. Owebama problems are incompetence on the job and stupidity.

    May 20, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  22. The REAL Truth...

    @just askin – could you try something different for a change, or do you follow the GOP mantra of lying about something enough that people believe its the truth. If you want incompetent look no further than the House GOP. They haven't done a darn thing in 5 years except vote 37 times to repeal ACA (all failed), and try to make Obama a one-term President. That worked well didn't it, and cost almost a TRILLION dollars to lose. Must be some upset wealthy folks.

    So, instead of manufacturing "scandals" – as they did with Clinton in his 2nd term – had the GOP decided to do something for the country (still waiting on those 2010 jobs, jobs, jobs) we might be further along in the economic recovery than we are. Convenient how the IRS was headed by a Bush Republican appointee during the "scandal" and was know about a year ago. Convenient how the Republican led CIA first doctored emails on Benghazi reports. Yawn.. Zzzzz
    And despite all the GOP opposition things are improving. Yeah, you want incompetent – and let's and inept and corrupt – look right.

    May 20, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  23. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Conservatives biggest fear is not being caught without their assault weapons! No, their biggest fear is minorities in America getting an education and bettering themselves. Ever since slavery in America, slave masters biggest fear has always been that if blacks were to become educated, they would rebell and fight for their freedom. And that is so evident in the divisive, hateful and disruptive ways in which conservatives have behaved in congress, injecting their hateful extremism views into the mainstream of our society because a Black man and woman are now resideing in the White House that African slaves built! Shame shame shame! Now the world world sees what a fraud this country really is! Twenty first century bigotry!

    May 20, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  24. CosmicC

    @Christian Grey – There's one problem with your statement: It's wrong. While Romney would have lifted up the (shrinking) middle class, he would have done so by pushing the poor further down. He would also have increased the distance between the middle and upper classes. Your beloved "market economy" is driving us back to feudalism and needs to be restrained.

    May 20, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  25. It should not be this way

    Unfortunately Obama is NOT a President that represents all the people as any good President would be. He is a President that primarily represents the people that support him. The others are viewed as enemies, to be attacked, demonized, called racist, or taxed into oblivion. To call him divisive doesn't even say it. It is almost as if he would have no problem with riots and violence in the streets as long as his side came out on top. He has damaged this country more than people know.

    May 20, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
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