CNN Poll: Likability helps Obama survive brutal week
May 20th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
10 years 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.

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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. Watchful eye

    They are still polling their favorite people – the ones that will answer in their favor.....not the ones that tell the truth. Where is my chance to say that we need more of a leader that works FOR the people? This comment will not make the CNN poll, or count against his popularity. Poll everyone, not just your safe niche.

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  2. teri

    hmmmm, this story certainly conflicts with the people on this board. Really? CNN? You goin down with the Obama kook-aid ship?

    May 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  3. Joan of Arch

    Who the heck do they poll on these questions, this is so far from being true I can't even remember when I lasted talked to someone who approved or liked either one of these two people, all they do are lie and lie for either other. CNN needs to quit polling each other here.

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

    Lefty CNN says Obama still popular, What a joke

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  5. blakenaustin

    Sorry, but I do not find a compulsive liar and deceiver, nor a Marxist promoting anti-family social policy to be likeable.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  6. Tully

    Wait till the facts come out, them you'll see whose popular

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  7. Stacy Carlyle

    I think CNN needs to get out of Obama's bed and report the truth. This poll a bunch of garbage to steer Americans away from the power monger!

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. futureman1

    Bob above who has not heard of one person who approves of Barack Obama since he "came on the scene"? Where the Hell do you live Bob? Dim Bulb Arkansas?

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  9. Colorado

    Hey Bob, it just depends on who you hang out with. I personally don't know anybody who likes the GOP since PRESIDENT Obama came on the scene!!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  10. Bob Hope's Ghost

    I bet they only polled his cabinet and then walked around a couple cemeteries and took the non answers as a yes.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  11. Ken in MD

    Tea Party support has soared to 37%. They must be so proud.

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

    Only a matter of time until the out of touch GOP sees a drop in their approval rating. Midterms are a-comin'

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  13. Recurvelife

    I fail to see how the tea party got a benefit from this. It's not like droves of people defected from their parties and signed over to Republican or what not. Some within might have a feeling of elation, but nothing more.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  14. Stan

    My 401K plan supports Obama.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  15. Lg

    I believe this poll as much as I believe Obamacare isn't a tax.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  16. Skalamoosh

    Sad for my country

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. Aldo

    If he's still liked, then why write bout it? Conditioning at its finest.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  18. Preget

    You can't fix stupid.

    May 20, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  19. Bryan

    The fact that the Tea Party has a 37% favorability rating is indicative of the fact that this is still a very uneducated country.

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

    What a pile of hockey poo!

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  21. nmspoke

    what a shock! A poll comes out with the desired results..... Good job CNN

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  22. sarah

    For beer summits he's the best. As a president not so much. Wandering how much more details will emerge in time about the three scandals and when Mr. Obama will follow Nixons footsteps.

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  23. Name willard

    I am belived that afrcian amercian are too big trouble with bunsuies fraud check scan
    Kick out of afrcian amercian

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. Data Driven

    Let's summarize:

    1). Obama may actually be benefiting from last week
    2). "tea party" actually got a bump because no one likes the IRS
    3). Virtually unchanged for Clinton

    Analysis: business as usual. Now let's cover some news.

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. yo!

    I want to have a beer with him after a round of golf.

    May 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
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