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. KeepItRealDrake

    @jimkon – You forgot Mark Foley.

    May 20, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  2. ghostriter

    Gotta suck to be a republican. You guys had this gift fall right into your laps. But in your mad haste to pin this on the president, you tried to make it worse than it really was. Thus, turning off anyone who might have agreed with the "initial" assessment. Of course, it may also have something to do with the fact that this is the 5th or 6th set of hearings designed as fact restricting expeditions and political pot shots.

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  3. cosmok

    Yep, the Obama administration has hired CNN to run their damage control PR campaign.

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  4. knklhead

    .. yet again, another example of the silent majority still liking Obama. For all of you that think that everyone must agree with your hatred of Obama, pay attention to those that prefer not to argue with you. There you go. That's the majority.

    GOP numbers ... you guys are not going in the right direction. How about Jobs, jobs, jobs? You prefer hearings, hearings, hearings!

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  5. ryan

    CNN you got to be kidding me!?! You are no longer and haven't been for quite some time now a reliable news source. You have lost me and many many others. Keep covering weather and the entertainment industry. Lead the sheep to the slaughter but I will not be there

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  6. DemocratFaithful

    Investigate the free press, use the IRS against political opponents, lie about a terrorist attack...and yet your follows will support you. Sounds more like a cult following! I bet those same gullible folks make snide comments about Nixon!

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Amazing how well the campaign of lies and deceit from the Administration keep the Liberal minds in the fog.

    May 20, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  8. maria

    Not really he is showing the true colors,too many promises and nothing good to us the regular people ,like everyone elese there politics are full of it! a bunch of phonies!

    May 20, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  9. John Booth

    Sure he is likable but he is also completely inept and totally lacks any leadership ability. I wouldn't mind him living next door and swapping lawn mower stories across the hedge but he has been a complete disaster as the president of our country.

    May 20, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  10. Mark


    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.
    I'm personally indifferent to him – neither great nor terrible – but you seem bitter. And given your comments, you would not accept any poll unless it fit with your hatred of him anyway.

    May 20, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  11. Corrso

    you people get worked up about everything. Such a waste of energy.

    May 20, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  12. Dave

    If we could just get rid of the dead weight in the GOP this great country would be soaring to prosperity and success!

    May 20, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  13. Dean

    , but they haven't reached the epic levels of Watergate.

    Wondering how many people got killed by Watergate?

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  14. sheshie

    Hahaha!!! Oh I needed a good laugh today!!

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  15. frankezl

    CNN is pathetic. What's even more pathetic is that this is probably TRUE! Sadly, the majority of Americans couldn't tell you from third base what has been going on with Benghazi, the AP spying, or the IRS targeting, and frankly, even if they did, they only know it on the surface level due to the incredibly pathetic liberal mainstream media. They might be like "HEY WHAT'S GOING ON HERE OBAMA?! THIS SEEMS WRONG.." That thought lasts about as long as the mainstream media comes out with headlines like this one. Then they go "OH, OKAY, THE REST OF THE COUNTRY DOESN'T SEEM MAD, GUESS I'LL GO WATCH DANCING WITH THE STARS..." We are totally ruined as a country. I try so hard to hit it through people's heads the problems we are facing but all I get usually is a collected "Chill out dude" or "Dude they are all corrupt, it's whatever"...NO! It is not whatever, this is our country going down the proverbial drain and the vast majority of the US population doesn't even care or worse off, WANT TO CARE. God save us.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  16. ThinkAgain

    @oracle: If President Obama is so lousy, then how come the GOP couldn't find a candidate good enough to beat him? All you fielded were a bunch of certifiable loonies.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  17. Curiouswhy

    Seriously? CNN keeps sinking to new lows. This is a farce, just like obama himself. It's a pathetic, boldface propaganda piece thinly veiled as "news". The saddest thing of all, is all the obamaphoners and welfarecrats will drink this koolaid too, on the way to the polls (for the first time in their life)....we're screwed. beans, bullets & bandaids, folks.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  18. bannister

    I travel in a variety of circles and I'd say only 50% of the people like Obama at most. 79% is waaay too high.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  19. BrianMemphis

    To my friends of the left....your guy is ONLY polling the same because of likeability. Go ahead and believe it's the evil republicans and that he is the cat's meow, but most people really know he's a nin-com-poop and only staying afloat because he's a likeable guy.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  20. edmundburkeson

    Voted most likely to run his Presidency from a jail cell in high school!

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  21. Ginger

    The GOP, the Tea Party in particular, is trying to manipulate the people of this country to their advantage in recouping the White House. It's pathetic and revealing of their character. It won't work.

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  22. Pinewalker A, group A are now next in line for your daily punch bowl fill up....and please do hurry, we have lots of people to distribute to today

    May 20, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  23. Greg Faith

    They have to like him or the IRS will come after them.

    May 20, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  24. doug

    CNN IS a puppet!!!! this is b.s. LOL when he folks don't get a tax return this year because of fines from the health care bill I will LMAO

    May 20, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  25. Thomas

    People posting here working for a 501(c)(4) political organization. You need to let that be known under penalty of law !

    Under false propaganda law , this is an FCC related news agency .
    Federal law specifically mandates that any advertisement appearing in the news ...that would not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda. ... The term propaganda may also refer to false information

    501(c)(4) nonprofits can only advertise under there own domain name.


    Ask Jack Abramoff.

    Email the IRS and your congressmen !

    May 20, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
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