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. Plaier Won

    We were already aware that stupid people base their politics on aesthetics. Thanks for the "Breaking News".

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

    How about polling the REAL public and not Democratic supporters and fools. A good leader? Obama has zero idea what it means and requires to be a leader. He is as far from a leader as someone can get. Those questioned in this so called "poll" are absolute fools and idiots.

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

    Amen Rose !

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

    Really? Likable? This is a poll? I don't care if he's likable, he's doing a poor job! People like me at my workplace, but if I don't perform well my contract doesn't get renewed!

    I guess this will be the banner for his presidential library... "I'm Likable!"

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. Kelly51

    Hog Wash! Anyone that believes this B S is brain dead.

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. Cathy Klager

    This administration is frightening. It's time we, the people, hold them responsible for their lies and continuous cover ups. They'll probably attempt to blame the Republicans, George Bush and Fox News for their corrupt IRS practices, the appalling Benghazi tragedy and the AP and FOX news spying. They are impossibly arrogant....wake UP America!! President Obama, Eric Holder and their cohorts MUST be held accountable for these blatant recent abuses of power!!

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  7. askal

    who they surveyed, those on welfare and hispanics with illegal immigrant relatives?

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  8. PeterD

    President Obama Lectures Morehouse Graduates "No Time for Excuses". At the same time He and Eric Holder are making all kind of Excuses Over and Over for IRS, Bengazhi, AP Spying cover up.

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  9. @Bob

    Hey Bob, you are not going to meet anyone who likes Obama at your clan meetings. Just saying....

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  10. tommy

    These Polls DO NOT represent Americans vies or stance. They represent what CNN wants you to think. Damn Joke!

    May 20, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  11. Let it burn

    Nevermind what it says about the President, what does it say about the American public?

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

    I think the American people look about what is going on with these 'scandals' and then are reminded of the Bush scandals (lies to wage an unjust war that has led to the killing thousands, etc) and they see that President Obama's so-called scandals (which have little to do with him) are child's play. Their efforts to make Obama and Hillary look bad is only turning out bad for them. Give it up Republicans and the tea party... your days of running this country are over unless you actually get back to governing instead of trying to villianize the President who we, the American majority support.

    May 20, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  13. OMGoodness

    Can no one see that the media – what ever they choose to make up and report to us – is making the choices for us? I don't believe everything that is written. They don't report everything, and choose to make mountains out of mole hills whenever they want to. You don't HAVE to believe everything that is written!

    May 20, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  14. bobbleheadincheif

    The majority are dolts.

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

    Nobody believes these polls. Well, Republicans don't. But Republicans still think they won the election, so that tends to indicate the level of objectivity the Republicans bring to the table.

    But, then, Republicans never really believe anything that doesn't conform with what they want, or what they want to do, or what they want to have.

    A lot like Democrats in the '70s. But most Democrats moved back towards the middle of the boat, while the Republicans have stormed all the life boats on the starboard side, then complain the listing of the boat is due to the Democrats moving to the middle and the boat would right itself if only the Democrats would move to Starboard with them, or jump overboard altogether.

    May 20, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  16. vemaseku

    Among how many voters who casted the votes is 79% .How much tampering was involved in this? lot of people who wants this country to be rest of the world is increasing day by day.What a shame!

    May 20, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  17. TN Trader

    Sad when lying is likable.

    May 20, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  18. Bill Zorn

    Popularity? I didn't know that was the measuring stick for being president? I want a leader not a the most likeable guy?

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  19. Indiana Voter

    Wow, another CNN poll supporting the President. What a shocker! (sarcasm)

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  20. Del Frank

    This is past funny! He had to cheat to be president, he did not get the most votes but over 3/4th of the people like him??? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  21. Stacy Carlyle

    Wake up America before America is gone! Shame on you CNN!

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  22. Lewy

    Weiner – Holder in 2016.

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  23. Sharon Serguta

    You polled 923 people out of over 300 million living in this country? That's supposed to be a good indiciation? What do you think we are THAT STUPID!!!

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  24. Kip Oliver

    Bob said, " 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. Instead he fuels the fire and everything he touches turns to crap."

    Well Bob, I haven't met many who approve of the President, either, but then I don't know everybody in my town, let alone city, county, or state. I haven't met many -online or offline – who voted for him, but to be fair, I probably only know about 1500 people on line and about 75 off line...barely a drop in the bucket to the 5 billion people in the US.

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  25. Be Sane

    The American people are waking up to the nasty games the Republicans are playing. It will backfire big time in 2014 and2016.

    May 20, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
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