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Little Change In Public Attitudes Towards Clinton Impeachment

Little Change In Public Attitudes Towards Clinton Impeachment


The American public's attitudes about the historic impeachment process unfolding in Washington, evaluated by a series of Gallup polls conducted this past week, can be summarized succinctly: He's guilty, but don't impeach him.

Despite the wrangling in the Judiciary committee hearings on the issue of whether or not Bill Clinton's actions were or were not technically illegal, there is little doubt in the public's mind that they were. Americans believe–in some instances confirming what they have said in polls for many months–that Clinton committed perjury, engaged in illegal acts, and misused and abused his office.

As far back as April of this year, a clear majority of the public said that Clinton had lied under oath. In September, 66% said that he had committed perjury. In polling this week, well over half of those polled agree that the allegations contained in three out of the four draft articles of impeachment circulated by the Judiciary Committee majority are true, and half believe that the fourth–obstruction of justice–is true.

At the same time, it is clear that the majority of the public does not think that these offenses rise to the level of being impeachable. This too has been a consistent finding over the past several months.

The public's basic attitudes about impeachment are stable and straightforward: about a third of those interviewed have said in response to questions asked about impeachment that they favor it. About sixty percent or more have consistently said that they oppose it. These responses are obtained in response to general questions asking about "impeaching and removing Clinton from office," as well as to very specific questions which differentiate between the impeachment role of the House and the trial role of the Senate, and to questions about the actions that should be taken by the House Judiciary Committee.

Censure appears to be a preferred alternative. When asked this week directly about censuring the president, 55% of Americans said that they favor it. In response to a different question, about 61% of Americans this past weekend said that they favor censure if an impeachment measure is not passed.

The impeachment proceedings thus far have generated only mid-range attention from the public. As of Thursday night of this week, 56% of Americans said that they were following the congressional impeachment proceedings very or somewhat closely. This is significantly lower than the attention levels Gallup has measured for other major news events, such as the death of Princess Diana and the UPS strike.

The public does not think that Clinton will ultimately be impeached. As of Tuesday night, only 37% of those polled said that the House would vote to convict him and send the issue to the Senate for trial.

Survey Methods
The results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 550 adults, 18 years and older, conducted November 20-22 1998. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 5 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.

How closely have you been following the congressional impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton?

  Very closely Somewhat closely Not too closely Not at all No opinion
Dec 10 20% 36 31 12 1
Dec 9 16% 38 29 17 *
Dec 8 19% 36 28 17 *
* Less than 0.5%

As you may know, the House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on whether to recommend impeachment of Bill Clinton to the FULL House of Representatives. In your view, should the House Judiciary Committee vote for or against impeachment?

  Vote for Vote against No opinion
Dec 10 34% 63 3
Aug 9 34% 61 5
Aug 8 34% 63 7

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