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. Phattee

    Man, just how bad off is your group when a 37% approval rating is seen as "good".

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  2. Arsh

    These polls are a joke. If they actually ran polls like ESPN where the common person could participate they'd see his approval rate at about 30% instead they go to a democrat office and ask if they like Obama. what a joke

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  3. Jafaar

    Obama gives great speeches and makes everybody feel better about themselves. That's all a President is supposed to do, right? Forget a 1 trillion dollar deficit, healthcare system that no one can understand, federal debt that exceeds the GDP, sluggish recovery, and Donald Trump hosting yet ANOTHER season of Celebrity Apprentice...oh wait,

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

    This was a poll taken from welfare recipients.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  5. bob

    Guess we have turned into a nation of whiners and followers. Maybe it has to do with the liberal media, who support jerks like Obama who run around telling egeryone in the country how bad they have it, and want to save the illegals, blah-blah-blah. This country would have failed 200 years ago for the likes of all of you losers.

    May 20, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  6. Iamnotfooled

    I can just see the GOP "I'm Melting, I'm Melting," like the wicked witch.

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  7. lmc11

    CNN still trying to push the president's popularity. Today we find out that Obama & Co were targeting a FOX news anchor as well as the AP and has even brought charges against him. We also found out the the DOJ leaked info on a Fast and Furious whistle blower. NOT ONE WORD ON CNN.


    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. Benjamin Goulart

    oops, NOW looked at, not "not" looked at

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. oldprof

    Bob – You haven't talked to me. Compared to Jr Bush, Obama is the best thing since sliced bread. What the country needs is to get rid a batch of republican progress blockers.

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  10. no name

    How can anybody in there right mind like Obama, I can't say how I really feel but we have a bunch of messed up people in the United States of America

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. WRONG Republican

    I LOVE the complete FOOLS herE that make statements like NOBODY I KNOW LIKES OBAMA, THIS THESE POLLS MUST BE WRONG.


    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. larry

    "if Obama sodomized a young boy on national television at prime time the
    45% of the population who support him would seek to justify his actions." Along with the media.

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Jimmy Le

    Republicans sound like a bunch of cry babies. Nobody cares if a rich white guy gets audited. I think most Americans wish for them to get audited ( because they're known for screwing everyone over). I think if the GOP is going to stage a comeback, they should focus on making people like them instead of putting all their energy on trying to make people dislike the Dems. "You catch more flush with honey..."

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  14. EMcK

    So let's take a ride in the wayback machine (or sort of wayback).

    Bush approval rating on May 20, 2005: 46% according to Gallup.

    Little hind for Republicans – if you focus all your efforts on complaining instead of making efforts to resolve actual problems, you'll keep dropping in the polls. For instance, if your primary goal is complaining about the IRS scrutinizing groups who voice an interest in abolishing the IRS rather than, say, working on a jobs bill that will actually benefit the country, you'll tend to drive people away from your cause.

    Just a simple statement of fact.

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  15. BlackMe

    Who is YOU? Hillary and Obama lied to save the election. PRISON TIME BABY!!!!!

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

    All con men are usually likeable. It is how they are able to get you to lower your defenses so that you can be conned.

    May 20, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  17. James PDX

    79% finding him likeable means even a fair chunk of the GOP can't help liking Obama. That's pretty amazing. But I can only rate Obama by much less I dislike him than his GOP counterparts. His dislikeability rating remains lower than that of pretty much any member of the GOP.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "realize what is truly going on,"

    And what's that? FEMA camps? Or is it the UN's black helicopters today? No? How about drone attacks while you're launching your morning Brown October? Oh wait...I know...he's taking all your guns that he hasn't taken yet? All so minorities can steal this country from it's rightful white owners and establish a new world order? YAWN!

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  19. Just_One

    Not me. barry and his DC government can go engage in perverted acts of self gratification

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Sorry but there is a big difference between being likeable and being a leader. In my opinon, Obama is just likeable, but a leader he is not. There have been many managers I have worked for that have been likeable, but horrible leaders. I would rather have a great leader than one who is "likeable"

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. Jamie

    Who did they pol? Partisan Progressive/Democrat IRS employees? What a bunch of tripe!! If lefties approve of this then they do not a micron of credibility left. Just refer to them as criminals from now on. We need to boycott and shut the whole place down, since we are the ones who do all the work and pay taxes anyway.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. For Real?

    Headline news? If CNN really thinks we believe this, then they just need to quit pretending to be newsworthy. Cable Obama Network (CON) is more like it.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  23. LicenseToSteal

    Everybody loves President Schultz.

    "I know nothing!"

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  24. Zoglet

    I bet, after having this read out loud for him, Jethro is weeping.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  25. Adam

    I wish CNN would be consistent with the tools used for giving feedback on articles. There's at minimum 2 and at most 4 different ways to comment, and frankly it sucks. Stick with Disqus.

    As far as this poll goes, what a load of garbage. The poll is completely out of touch with reality. They based this on a poll that didn't even hit 1,000 people. What a joke. Anyone with a brain in their head when asked if they think after all the scandals Obama has been involved in if he is "honest and trustworthy" and says "yes" is insane.

    May 20, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
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