Bill Clinton’s popularity has soared to the highest levels of his presidency as a combination of good feelings about the state of the nation and support for his programs appears to be outweighing public concerns about how he financed his re-election, according to a new nationwide Los Angeles Times poll.
The Republican-controlled Congress also scores relatively good marks. But the public’s good mood stops abruptly short of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
Large majorities have an unfavorable view of him and believe he should resign as speaker after his reprimand for misleading the House Ethics Committee about his use of tax-exempt funds.
With Congress beginning debate over a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, the public remains divided on the issue. Opinions are also sharply split on the long-term issues of how best to handle the financial problems of the Medicare and Social Security systems.
But on at least one budgetary issue, public opinion appears on Clinton’s side. By 56 percent to 38 percent, those polled agree with Clinton that Congress should restore food stamps and other benefits to legal immigrants who face a cutoff under the last year’s welfare reform law.
By 61 percent to 34 percent, the public has a positive view of Clinton’s job performance - his previous highest approval rating in a Times poll was 58 percent when he was first sworn into office. By 43 percent to 34 percent, the public believes Clinton has better ideas than congressional Republicans for handling the country’s major problems - the first time that has been true since the GOP takeover of Capitol Hill.
Asked to evaluate how Congress is doing its job, the public divides evenly, 46 percent to 46 percent.
Gingrich, however, lags far behind his fellow legislators. By 58 percent to 22 percent, the public has an unfavorable impression of him, with even conservatives viewing him negatively - 49 percent to 33 percent. By 60 percent to 35 percent, those polled believe he should resign as speaker.
By 61 percent to 31 percent, the public rejects Gingrich’s claim he has been singled out for censure because he is a conservative Republican.
And by a huge 83 percent-to-9 percent margin, those polled say Gingrich should use his own money, not campaign funds, to come up with the $300,000 the House ordered him to pay in his ethics case.
The Times Poll interviewed 816 adults nationwide Feb. 5-6. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus three points.