Economy Sustains Clinton's Popularity, Poll Shows

While most disapprove of Clinton's moral leadership, they trust him to keep creating new jobs.

President Clinton's problems are piled sky high - yet his public-opinion ratings remain favorable. Why?

A new nationwide poll this week may help unravel the mystery.

One key appears to be the American economy. As stocks tumble in the United States and foreign economies falter, Americans trust Mr. Clinton to do the right thing to protect their jobs and their pocketbooks.

Despite the president's problems on the moral front, the Clinton years have been the most prosperous in modern American history. That has made a sharp impression on voters.

A nationwide survey conducted this week for The Christian Science Monitor found that most Americans think that removing the president from office at this time would damage the US economy.

The poll, conducted by Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics (TIPP), discovered that an underlying fear of an economic downturn could be a major factor sustaining Clinton's popular support.

Confidence in Clinton remains high, even though the public feels by a wide margin that he has done a poor job of providing moral leadership for the country.

The Monitor/TIPP poll found that Clinton's overall approval rating stands at 57 percent, while 40 percent disapprove of the job he is doing. Three percent were undecided.

What has the economy to do with these ratings?

Of those who approve of Clinton's job performance, 2 out of 3 say they fear the economy would be hurt if he were thrown out of office.

Yet among those who do not approve of Clinton's performance, only 1 out of 4 - 26 percent - say his departure would hurt the American economy.

An additional factor boosting Clinton's approval rating could be the vice president, Al Gore. If Clinton is impeached and convicted by Congress, Mr. Gore would automatically step into the Oval Office.

Yet a large number of Americans - 42 percent in this survey - say they are "not very confident" or "not at all confident" that Gore as president could handle the economy. (On the positive side, 54 percent think he would do OK.)

Raghavan Mayur, who directed the Monitor/TIPP poll, says the survey results indicate that pocketbook issues - while not the only reason - could be a significant factor in maintaining public support for Clinton.

Job issues have always been critical to Clinton's strength going back to his 1992 race for the White House. His informal campaign slogan during his race against President Bush was: "It's the economy, stupid!"

Now economic concerns are piling up. The US stock market has dropped nearly 20 percent since July. Economies across much of Asia, including the once-mighty Japanese industrial engine, are sputtering. At home, layoffs are being announced at big corporations like Boeing, Motorola, Citigroup, Rockwell International, and Pratt & Whitney. In this environment, many voters are looking for a sense of security.

Clinton gives them that, the Monitor/TIPP poll shows.

Who is most concerned? The poll indicates those most worried about the economic fallout from a Clinton impeachment include women, minorities, and those in their prime working years - ages 18 to 54.

The lack of confidence in a possible Gore presidency is found among those same groups, particularly those 18 to 34 years old. Among young people, 47 percent say they doubt that Gore would ably handle the economy.

Clinton's strongest support at present comes from non-whites (80 percent say he is doing a good job) and from women (63 percent). The president's support appears to decline with the age of the voter. It is strongest with the youngest age group (18 to 34) at 61 percent. It drops to 57 percent among those 35 to 54, and to 51 percent for those over 55.

A final note: Americans who are most likely to vote are those least likely to approve of the president's performance. They disapprove of his job performance by 51 to 46 percent.

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