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. Joe Kona


    Try taking a poll at the unemployment office, grocery store, gas pump and make sure English is the native language.

    You'll get significantly lower numbers.

    May 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  2. Erlo

    2016 can't come soon enough.

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

    Just because you dont hear anyone liking Obama doesnt mean no one does. He DID get elected BY the majority. Obviously, MOST people in America like him. I live in the deep south, where everyone here pretty much hates him. But I bet out in Cali or in New York, its probably a different story.

    May 20, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  4. Jon Steward

    And that is because most of you are misinformed since the media twists any story to favor Obama and make the GOP look bad...

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

    if that's true, why do you have to tell us that we still like him?

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

    79%? That is not true in any way. This is obviously a completely made up poll.

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

    So NOT true

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

    This is breaking news? Seriously? CNN: You like him Me: No I don't. CNN: Breaking news! Yes you do!

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

    Polls don't lie.

    If you want proof, look at what happened last November.

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

    Wow. That is a really stupid article. Who did they poll? Obama supporters?...maybe then I could believe that 51% of his original supporters still like him; but 51% of the public in general..laughable. C'mon You can do better CNN than this weak, laughable, attempt to "show us" that he is not being hurt by his epic failures. Then you wonder why nobody trusts the media anymore.

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

    lol @bob.. in what fantasy world of yours did anyone say he was supposed to get rid of 'alll the racism' And who, besides you of course, would take it as matter of fact that one man could get rid of racism in the most racist country in the world?? You sir, MUST be a true genuis if thats what you believed when he was elected

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

    Thank you President Obama for resotring faith in our American economy – the stock market approaches 16,000, unemployment is plummiting, and our deficit is shrinking.

    President Obama killed America's #1 enemy of all time, and has kept Americans safe from major terrorist attacks.

    Best of all – Obama ended the 2 Bush Oil Wars.

    Americans – you have spoken, and admirably, you endorse one of the stronger and wiser Presidents of all time.

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

    Yea like we believe this poll. CNN Please cover the scandals instead. Have some basic ethics instead of being a lap dog.

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

    I wonder who bought out this person to write this article...

    May 20, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  15. The Truth Hurts

    Wow. I feel so much better now knowing that Obama and Hilary are liked. I think I woudl just DIE if they were disliked...

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

    So the people who hated him continue to hate him (and would even if he walked on water), and the people who like him still do and realize that all of these "scandals" are just Republican BS that he is not responsible for.

    May 20, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  17. Alex

    Really? Whats the size of the sample? Where was this poll taken? If you, CNN, are going to say that the "American People" still like Obama, it better be a big sample size in every state. Otherwise, this is garbage. And everyone knows it is. I could go up to Illinois and get a 90% approval rating for Obama then go down to Alabama and get a 10%. This nation is divided as you might have noticed in the elections last year. Don't give me this BS.

    May 20, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "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."

    Try visiting north of the Mason-Dixon sometime...or at least exit the conservative echo chamber for once and try talking to someone without two first names. "Well, I talked to Steve Bob and Billy Joe" isn't exactly scientific sampling methodology.

    May 20, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  19. corpsman


    Nobody in their right mind believes these polls. "

    No? The fact that he won a second term should tell you something.

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

    CNN propping up Obama again

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

    lol... that tells me that this 58% ( if that number is real, and I highly doubt it) are sleeping zombies. Soooooo much for CNN poles.

    May 20, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  22. just sayin

    totally incompetent, totally clueless, total liar, total divider, but hey he's got a nice smile and gives a good speech so that'll get him by in the most importnt position on the planet. if this doesn't prove the country is half full of idiots, nothing will.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  23. VoterRemorse

    Breaking News:::This just in::: obama and hillary are still liked by blacks, liberals, gays and lesbians. Don't bother
    asking what moderates, the press, the military or ambassadors at risk think of those two; not to mention all repubs. Dems can begin resting on their laurels now (obama care? Right!) because the 'agenda' is dead.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  24. Benjamin Goulart

    Way to oversimplify and make the front page totally pointless, CNN. We are not looked at as a bunch of junior high girls Ted's beauty pagent talking heads.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  25. JazzyJ

    Three major Nixonian scandals that speak to governmental abuse of power are happening simultaneously, and CNN chooses to lead with "Most Of You Still LIke Obama!"

    CNN hasn't put a single article dealing with any of the three scandals on their home page all day.

    If you wonder why "the News Leader" is dead last in the ratings, maybe it's because articles like this make most news consumers realize that CNN is not a serous news source anymore.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
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