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  •   New Friends Help Boost Clinton to Record Approval

    By Richard Morin
    Special to
    Monday, July 14, 1997

    Forget Whitewater, Paula Jones and the other presidential mini-scandals that send political hearts racing inside the Beltway. More Americans than ever say they approve of the job that President Clinton is doing, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey.

    But the real news behind the latest poll numbers is that Clinton's recent surge in popularity largely comes from groups that have been hostile to him throughout much of his presidency: Republicans, white males and Westerners. At the same time, he's gotten a powerful lift from younger voters, who have been up and down in their support of Clinton.

    The Post-ABC News poll was based on interviews with randomly selected adults conducted from July 6 to July 8. The survey found that 64 percent of those interviewed said they approved of the job Clinton was doing as president, up from 59 percent in early June and 20 percentage points better than his low-water mark in December 1994, a month after his party's drubbing in the mid-term congressional elections.

    The latest poll numbers are even more remarkable because presidential job ratings generally fall the longer they are in office. However, Clinton is defying political gravity by winning disproportionally more support from groups that have been suspicious of him than from groups that have mostly backed him.

    Just how far and how fast Clinton has come with his critics can be seen by comparing the latest survey results with a Post-ABC News survey conducted in early March, when Clinton's job approval rating stood at a respectable 55 percent.

    In March, just 22 percent of all self-described Republicans said they approved of the job Clinton was doing as president. Today, 37 percent of all Republicans approve of the Democrat's performance. The 15-point increase among GOPers is marginally better than his improved standing among political independents (a 12-point gain, from 53 to 65 percent) or among Democrats, of whom nine out of 10 say he's doing just fine.

    Clinton is also doing surprisingly well among other groups that historically have given him the cold shoulder.

    The survey found that 58 percent of all white males interviewed approve of the job he's doing, up from 47 percent in March. There's still a gender gap, but it may be narrowing. His approval rating among white women went up from 55 percent in March to 62 percent in the latest poll.

    In recent years, Clinton has fared poorly among voters in the West. Not now. Among Westerners, Clinton's approval rating stands at 63 percent, up from 50 percent in March. He's even doing better out West than in his native South, where 60 percent of all respondents said he's doing a good job, up from 53 percent in March.

    The Post-ABC News poll also found that Clinton's support among young people has surged in just the past few months. Among those 18 to 30 years old, his job approval rating increased from 53 percent in March -- his worst showing among any age group -- to 70 percent in the latest Post-ABC News poll, his best performance. (Older Americans continue to be suspicious of Clinton. In March, his approval rating stood at 53 percent among those older than 60; today, it's at 55 percent.)

    Credit a booming economy and peace abroad for Clinton's current standing atop the polls. But also note how little impact the widely reported scandals swirling around Clinton are having on public perceptions of his performance.

    Two out of three respondents said the Whitewater scandal hasn't affected their opinion of Clinton one way or the other. That is surprising since nearly half -- 46 percent -- said they suspect that the president did something illegal when he was governor of Arkansas in connection with the Whitewater land deal. However, nearly half of those who think Clinton committed a crime in Whitewater still approve of the job he's doing as president.

    Likewise, Clinton's popularity hasn't been significantly tarnished by Paula Jones' continuing claims that she was sexually harassed by Clinton while he was governor. Nearly eight in 10 -- 78 percent -- said the case hasn't affected their opinion of Clinton one way or the other.

    A total of 1,017 randomly selected adults were interviewed July 6-8 for this Post-ABC News poll. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points, and larger when results are based on a portion of the sample.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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