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. DaveMI

    Just ask Hillary. Last statement from her before she disappeared into the sunset was "Who really cares?".

    May 20, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  2. Steve

    I do not think it is time to compare. Let's see what additional information comes out from the current scandals. I am not convinced his Administration is being straight with the American people. Let's look at this question much later in his second term. Then we hopefully will know whether this President and his Administration are trustworthy. Right now there are serious dubts.

    May 20, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  3. BobInIrvine

    The commentators here that claim Obama should be responsible for the IRS fiasco is hilarious. Please do some research to find out who the appointed head was appointed by.

    May 20, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  4. guest

    There once was a professor who taught socialism. For the first test some kids studied very hard, some did not. The teacher gave the average grade to everyone, much to the dismay of the students that really studied. Eventually the students that were trying real hard got tired of studying because they got averaged in with the rest. The grades got lower and lower. Welcome to Obama .

    May 20, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  5. Timothy

    I lie the most of all the presidents to date but nobody knows that yet, but they will when I run in 2016.

    May 20, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  6. Bob Dobb

    Clinton's hands were tied for (at least) 7-1/2 years while the GOP made a sport of spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on their useless "investigations." Chances are he would have gotten Bin Laden before the end of his second term, but those efforts were thwarted by the GOP claiming he was just trying to distract Americans from the Monica scandal.

    Obama has been under attack since day 1 yet he is still managed to do a decent job. Well, decent unless you LOVED the Bush years and his "accomplishments."

    May 20, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  7. logical positivist

    They could have saved a lot of time if they stripped this article down to one line: "Democrats approved of the job Obama is doing while Republicans do not."

    May 20, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Grey

    Both have issues, but at least Bill had more fun creating the situation...

    May 20, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  9. Made in the USA by Barack Obama

    You mean like how Republicans are yelling and screaming about their 3 manufactured "scandals?"

    "manufactured scandals"????

    Benghazi – 4 Americans killed, including our ambassador, during an al quada attack, and had almost no protection because they were denied it and had it cut after beggin gfor more? Then no help was sent when they were attacked. 4 Americans dead because of incompetence and then covered up because of the election. Manufactured by Obama and Clinton incompetence.

    AP – Massive and unprecedented fishing expedition, trampling their 1st Amendment rights, against a major news organization. Eric Holder manufactured.

    IRS – IRS ADMITTED targeting Obama's politcal opponents, violations of law.

    Only person manufacturing these scandals is the Obama White House that doesn't have a clue about what is going on in its own administration. There is something fundamentally wrong when you have a President that says he didn;t know anything and learned about things at the same time as everybody else, in the news media. This level of incompetence is very scary. And it's always the same old excuses, after 4.5 years, the same old excuses.

    May 20, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  10. Andres

    I voted for Obama twice. In both cases I believe there was no better choice but still, lots of promises to the people, the really significant were not delivered. Still waiting to get my good paying job back while Wall Street is getting billions, saying the economy is good. Granted there has been a lot of obstructionism but also a lot of backstage favoritism for big corporations at the expense of the middle class. Talk is cheap Mr. President, I have lost confidence in you.

    May 20, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  11. Tuza baap

    If there was democrat in the office who had lied about WMDs to go into Iraq where 3000 dead americans and 1 trillion wasted, republicans had that president and his cronies tried for war crimes. Benghazi and other scandals are miniscules compared to Iraq and other issues.

    May 20, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  12. Scott

    @Guest: Are you referring to the GOP or the Dems? I believe history, trends, bigotry and Fox News provide the answer to that.

    May 20, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  13. rs1201

    as a registered Republican, I voted for Bill Clinton because I thought that he was the best choice for the country...and I was right. Obama never got my vote. Although, Romney was a better candidate, I didn't think that either party offered a real choice. Obama, I thought was an unknown with some very serious flaws...Rev. Wright...M. Obama declaring that she had never been proud of her country until her husband was elected to the White House...despicable at best.
    At his first inaugural speech, I was sure that I had made the right choice by voting for Romney. It's important to me to know that I voted for the right person even if he lost. From day one, Obama proved himself to be a divider of our country. He showed himself to be a real enemy of the State of of our staunchest allies in the world. Obama wanted a real rapprochement with the arab this day, I have no idea how America would benefit from that.
    This IRS scandal will prove itself to be the size of Watergate. I think that from day one of Obama's tenure in office or shortly thereafter, the IRS has targeted conservative groups with vengeance. I'm sure that Congress and all these investigations will show that. Someone is going to talk the very second that jail time becomes an option for not talking.

    May 20, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. Anonymous


    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.

    Funny, you still didn't answer the question! You Obama haters have no specifics on what he's done that's so terrible that the world is going to end. All you know is that you're supposed to hate him because Faux News and its minions tell you to....that's called brainwashing!

    May 20, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  15. Name Uche Agonsi

    I love the mention of these names. These are two great men I ever adore. Their intellectualism & flamboyant diplomatic styles are quite educative for the 21st century world. They love people, & command open-minded views of politics. In all, they are among the .00001% rare breed politicians in the world. The world need to thank God Almighty for creating such men in HIS happy momments. But this does not mean they are flawless.......while Clinton was a victim of the devil's weapon against great men (remember Samson & Solomon)....Obama's debacle was racial hatred......I wish these great men of wisdom & love, God's protection in long life & good health.

    May 20, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  16. n222s


    The head at the beginning of the scandal was appointed by Bush (Shulmann if I spelled itcorrectly). You do know he is a registered Dem and donated $500 to the DNC. If we're going to do our research Bob, perhaps that should come out as well.

    Also, of the contributions to political parties/candidates from IRS employees, 90% went to Democrats. You do know that fact as well Bob, right?

    May 20, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  17. Dmitry

    Perhaps Stock Market Rally during the second term of both Presidents gives us the right to compare them. Clinton's presidency was during a different time. I don't think it is fair to forget about the rescission that Obama has inherited. Who is a better president Obama or Clinton, if you ask me, they are both good, different people, different situations.... Yahh they are both good.

    May 20, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. The Buck Always Stops Somewhere Else

    The commentators here that claim Obama should be responsible for the IRS fiasco is hilarious. Please do some research to find out who the appointed head was appointed by.
    Who served in the Obama administration and reported to Obama appointed Treasury Secretary Turbo Tax Timmy Geitner. And then there is the women who headed the offending division who was promoted to head the Obamacare implementation for the IRS. So were the people doing the targeting Democrats? And why weren't a similar number of groups supporting Obama targetted for review? This has the stench of a liberal/Democrat/Progressive cabal all over it.

    May 20, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  19. The REAL Truth...

    @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.
    No President in living memory has represented ALL of the people. The others being viewed a contrary are due to the polarization perpetrated by the right, starting with the public comment to "make Obama a single term President". Since that time the right wing propaganda machine had worked to convince the sheeple that all things Obama are bad. Meanwhile they had done absolutely NOTHING for the country, blocking and filibustering all positive legislation and calling the POTUS the great divider. Look in the mirror people. As a conservative independent (NOT a Republican) the GOP will not get my vote until they re-invent themselves to NOT represent Tea Party extremists and encompass folks that are real tired of the excuse they call a Party.

    May 20, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  20. Steve

    I hope and pray that Mr. Obama is who he says he is. But he has not delivered on major promises, Has credibility issues in his Administration that are troubling and frankly is just another politician who has not delivered the transparency he promised.

    May 20, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  21. NameFrank Deery

    The differance is that Clinton was better At selling the Snake Oil than Obama, who preaches too much. That is why Clinton bailed him out at the Democrat Convention

    Personally, I think Obama is a better family man morally than Clinton was, but our culture
    is going grunge, thus Clinton's appeal.

    May 20, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  22. U.S. Citizen

    How do they compare?
    They're both slick.

    May 20, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  23. Irritated..

    You know I am really tired of people bringing color into a conversation! It's not about color! It hasn't been about color for a long time. It's all about performance, Obama's performance is sub-standard. Now before i get lashed out at for hating Obama I would like to state that I supported him AT FIRST.

    I was in the service at the time he was threatening the Service members pay and actually only got half of my pay check as a result. This ruined Obama for me, he used the military as pawns. Now on the Reverse side of that I did get the rest of my pay once they figured out what was going on so my family didnt really suffer however I do not like being used as a pawn and dont think any one should be used in that manner.

    May 20, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  24. BinFL

    It's too bad more people can't be objective and ignore whether someone has an R or D behind their name. Right is right and wrong is wrong. I think supporters of both parties could come closer to meeting in the middle on certain issues if both felt like the other was being reasonable. The IRS actions are wrong. The Benghazi situation was wrong. The Justice Department's actions were wrong. This is not to say that Obama is personnally responsible, but in the real world, the head honcho must answer to the wrongs and make certain they are properly addressed. If not, all tax-paying Americans have a lot to worry about ... not for ourselves, but the future of our children and grandchildren.


    It's not that situations like these shouldn't be addressed and looked into as to what went wrong and how it can be corrected for the future, it is the fact that the Repubs are making mountains out of molehills and turning these unfortunate incidents into "Scandals" just to make President Obama and his administration look bad. That is NOT working for the American people. We want wrongs to be corrected but, unless there is something so drastic that the American people are in dire danger, these type of things should be addressed by Congress as regular business and not turned into campaign issues to divide the country even more. Most people are sick of this and want the President's agenda to move forward – that is why we re-elected him. Stopping his agenda is nothing short of treason.

    May 20, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  25. n222s

    Buck stop, it is always strange that people searching for the "truth" never seem to come back and comment when the facts contradict their talking points.

    Is there anything coming out of the Obama administration that progressives won't swallow completely?

    May 20, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
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