While Republican presidential candidates continue to bash each other, it’s time to address the revealed wisdom” of political pundits and Democratic strategists who have been claiming publicly and privately that Bill Clinton is a shoo-in for reelection. The best things Clinton has going for him, they’ve said, is the Republican presidential field, especially Pat Buchanan, and the Republican-led Congress which, according to the polls, the public largely blames for the recent gridlock and government shutdowns.
But the Republicans have something even greater going for them: President Clinton.
The Roper Center, which monitors polling and opinion on a number of subjects, has published a compilation of polls on how the public views President Clinton and the way he has been doing his job. While there are small variances among the polls, all reveal that the public’s distrust and disapproval remain not only low, but also unusually stable. In other words, Clinton has been unsuccessful in convincing voters that he is honest, trustworthy and means what he says.
Compared with modern presidents (since Truman), Clinton is the only one never to rise above 49 percent approval in response to the question, Do you approve or disapprove of the way (Clinton) is handling his job as president?” His approval rating as of January was 48 percent. Only presidents Carter (47 percent), Ford (47 percent) and Truman (42 percent) had lower average approval ratings sometime during their terms of office.
Remarkably, every other president since Truman has fluctuated in public approval more than Clinton, who has experienced only a 5 percent difference in approval since taking office.
There are other good signs for Republicans in the polling data. A Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey in mid-January questioned the public about Clinton’s leadership qualities. It found only 41 percent believe he can get things done” (56 percent don’t think he can); only 40 percent believe him to be honest and trustworthy” (55 percent think him dishonest and untrustworthy); 44 percent think he shares your values” (53 percent don’t); only 34 percent believe the President of the United States keeps his promises” (a whopping 61 percent thinks he doesn’t).
The only two categories that show a majority of the public think Clinton does well are tough enough for the job” (51 percent think so, 47 percent don’t) and Cares about the neediest people like you (56 percent believe he does, 42 percent believe he doesn’t).
The combined surveys show the character issue continues to dog Clinton and, in fact, his character ratings keep sliding. In response to the question, How confident are you that Bill Clinton has the right set of personal characteristics to be president of the United States?” 30 percent said they were not at all confident” and 40 percent said only somewhat confident.”
Does President Clinton deserve to be reelected?” 49 percent said no,” 41 percent said yes.” Remarkably, people’s opinion of Clinton remains about the same as it was in 1992, reinforcing the view that many of the 43 percent who voted for him (and the 19 percent who voted for Ross Perot) were really firing George Bush rather than demonstrating their confidence in Clinton.
On Whitewater, which Senate Democrats are desperately trying to keep from becoming a campaign issue (as Republicans did with the Watergate scandal in 1972), 52 percent of the public now regards Whitewater as very serious,” 45 percent believe the president is not telling the truth” about Whitewater and 53 percent think Mrs. Clinton is not telling the truth. While only 37 percent believe the president has participated in a cover-up, 49 percent believe the First Lady is hiding something in this two-for-one presidency. Overall, 61 percent of those surveyed believe the administration” is knowingly covering-up information about Whitewater that could be damaging to the President or Hillary Clinton.”
Republicans have achieved one of the two goals necessary to topple an incumbent president. A majority of the public has reasons not to reelect Bill Clinton. Now all Republicans need is a candidate who gives a majority of voters reasons to elect the GOP nominee.
Cal Thjomas is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.