Introduction and Summary

It may have been only the second impeachment in history, but it was a non-starter to the American public. Not only did the President’s approval ratings go up following the House’s decision, but only 34% of Americans paid very close attention to the proceedings. More people followed news about the attack on Iraq (44%) than the debate and historic vote this past weekend. In fact, the impeachment vote was not even among the top ten news interest stories of 1998.

The 805 adults who were re-interviewed December 19-21 were strongly supportive of Bill Clinton.* His job approval rating rose from 61% to 71%, and there was no significant increase from the original survey in the number who want to see him removed from office (31% vs. 29%). Only 30% say they would like to see Clinton resign in favor of Al Gore. [*NOTE: The original survey was conducted largely after the Judiciary Committee’s vote on articles of impeachment (Dec 9-13,1998).]

Two thirds of Pew’s respondents (67%) think most members of Congress who voted for impeachment did so for political reasons, and only 25% think members did so because they thought Clinton’s actions warranted removal from office. The public is divided over Representative Bob Livingston’s decision to step down because of past marital infidelity. Some 46% say it was a good idea, 43% a bad one. A majority of Democrats oppose Livingston’s decision (52%), while most Republicans believe it was a good idea (56%).

By a 56% to 35% margin the public thinks media coverage of the impeachment debate was fair and objective. But of those who disagree, most think the media favored a Republican point of view.

President Clinton’s approval ratings increased significantly among political Independents and Republicans after his impeachment. This boost in ratings may represent a show of sympathy for the President rather than an increase in base support. This is particularly true among Republicans: while 41% now approve of the job the President is doing, 64% still believe he should be removed from office.