September 17, 1998

Clinton Moral Authority Slips

Pew's Poll Numbers

Summary of Findings

Phone Calls, Not Polls, May Sway Congress

FINDING 1: The percentage of Americans saying President Clinton has the moral standing to lead the country fell in the wake of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report, leaving the country divided: 48% of the public say yes; 43% say no. In late August, a solid 57%-to-37% majority expressed confidence in Clinton on this question.

FINDING 2: Pew’s post-Starr report survey nonetheless continues to show Americans overwhelmingly opposed to impeachment: 62% say Clinton should not be impeached, the same percentage as in early August.

FINDING 3: Constituent feedback, which is running against Clinton in some districts according to press accounts, may play a more influential role than opinion surveys. Generally, members of Congress say they mostly rely on direct citizen input when judging public opinion, not polls. When questioned about their principal sources of information about the way the public feels about issues, 59% of members cited personal contacts, 36% letters and phone calls, 31% the media, 24% public opinion polls.

FINDING 4: Half of the public (48%) reports having read or heard at least part of the actual Starr report on possible impeachment charges against Clinton: 28% read it in a newspaper; 15% heard it on television; 11% went online to get it; 2% read it in a magazine; and 2% someplace else.

FINDING 5: Television network web sites were the number one choice of the 20 million Americans who read the report digitally: 32% read it on a network site; 17% the House of Representatives or another government site; 15% a newspaper web site; 31% another web site. Though seniors were the age group most likely to have read part of the report, less than 2% of them went online to do so, compared to 12% of those under age 30.

These findings come from two new surveys by the Pew Research Center: 1,006 adults were contacted by telephone September 9-13; and 1,012 were contacted September 11-15. The surveys have a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Finding 3 comes from a spring 1998 survey of 81 members of Congress. For more information, contact Andrew Kohut or Greg Flemming at the Pew Research Center (202) 293-3126.