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More Americans Approve of House Vote to Impeach Clinton Now Than a Year Ago

More Americans Approve of House Vote to Impeach Clinton Now Than a Year Ago


PRINCETON, NJ -- One year has passed since the House of Representatives passed its resolution of impeachment of President Bill Clinton on December 19, 1998, and in the space of that year, Americans have become significantly less negative toward the historic House decision. In a poll conducted immediately after the House's vote to impeach Clinton, on December 19 and 20 of last year, only 35% of Americans said they approved of the vote. Now, in a poll conducted December 9-12 of this year, 50% of Americans approve, moving the balance of the nation's sentiment to a break-even position, rather than the roughly two-to-one opposition that prevailed last year.

The change has occurred across the political spectrum, although the percentage of independents and of Democrats who approve of impeachment has increased slightly more than the percentage of Republicans:

  Approving of House Decision to Impeach
December 1998
Approving of House Decision to Impeach
December 1999
  % %
TOTAL 35 50
Republicans 73 79
Independents 40 50
Democrats 12 23

There has been much less change in the public's view of the Senate's ultimate decision to acquit Bill Clinton. In February and March of this year, after the Senate vote, Gallup polls showed that 61% to 64% of the public approved of the decision to acquit. Now, in the most recent poll, 57% approve, while 42% disapprove -- marking just a slight change over the past nine months.

Perhaps part of the reason why Americans are more approving of the House vote to impeach and send the trial to the Senate is that the public -- in looking back -- is less certain now than earlier this year that the process was harmful to the country. In February, just after the Senate vote that ended the process, 32% said the process had been very harmful to the country, and 42% said it had been somewhat harmful. Now, those numbers have both dropped: 27% say that it has been very harmful and 37% somewhat harmful. In broader terms, the percentage of Americans who say that impeachment has been at least somewhat harmful to the nation has dropped by 10 percentage points.

Two other questions about impeachment similarly show little change:

  • Only about a third -- 35% -- now say that Clinton should be charged in a court of law for a crime in the impeachment-related matters after he leaves office, actually slightly lower than the 39% who felt that way last February.
  • Americans remain more negative than positive in response to questions asking if Congress conducted its review of the charges against Clinton in a fair and impartial manner; by a 52% to 44% margin, Americans say that Congress did not, and these numbers are very little changed from a poll conducted in the middle of the House deliberations in October 1998.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,037 adults, 18 years and older, conducted December 9-12, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

As you may know, removing a president from office involves two major steps in Congress. First, the House of Representatives must vote on whether there is enough evidence to bring a president to trial before the Senate. This step is called impeachment. Next, the Senate must vote on whether to remove the president from office or not.

As you may know, the House of Representatives impeached Bill Clinton last December, after which the matter was sent to the U.S. Senate where they acquitted Clinton on both articles. Thinking back on the first action, do you approve or disapprove of the House decision to vote in favor of impeaching Clinton and sending the case to the Senate for trial?

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
1999 Dec 9-12 50% 49 1
1998 Dec 19-20 35% 63 2

Now we'd like you to think about the second action, where the Senate voted to acquit Bill Clinton of both articles of impeachment, meaning he remained in office. Do you approve or disapprove of that decision?

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
1999 Dec 9-12 57% 42 1
1999 Mar 12-14 61% 37 2
1999 Feb 12-13 64% 34 2

From what you have read or heard, do you think that Congress did or did not conduct its review of the charges against Bill Clinton in a fair and impartial manner?

  Oct 6-7,
Dec 9-12,
Yes, did conduct fair and impartial review 44% 44%
No, not fair and impartial 50 52
No opinion 6 4
  100% 100%

Do you think Bill Clinton should or should not be charged in a court of law with a crime for these matters, after he leaves office?

  Feb 12-13,
Dec 9-12,
Yes, should 39% 35%
No, should not 58 62
No opinion 3 3
  100% 100%

How harmful, if at all, do you feel the impeachment process of Bill Clinton was to the country -- very harmful, somewhat harmful, not too harmful, or not harmful at all?

  Feb 12-13,
Dec 9-12,
Very harmful 32% 27%
Somewhat harmful 42 37
Not too harmful 16 18
Not harmful at all 10 17
No opinion * 1
  100% 100%

* = less than 0.5%

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