Women, more than men, are standing by President Clinton as he confronts allegations of a sexual relationship with a former White House intern, according to public opinion surveys.
“There is a gender group that maintains,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the Claremont Graduate School in California.
Clinton may never face voters at the polls again, political analysts said, but popular support still matters greatly as he tries to push his agenda through a Republican-controlled Congress.
The president is enjoying perhaps the best job-approval ratings of his presidency. And analysts said the female voters who were so crucial to his presidential victories are even more likely to be sticking with Clinton. The analysts offered a variety of reasons:
They like his policies. They tend to be Democrats. They are loyal to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. They are pleased by the number of women he’s appointed to high-level posts.
Particularly in the earliest days of this controversy, women appeared to be more willing than men to reserve judgment.
Even some of the experts found it intriguing that Clinton hadn’t lost more support over accusations that he had been unfaithful to his wife.
Clinton has maintained “the reservoir of good will that … (he) had at the time of the 1996 election,” said Joyce Gelb, director of the Center for the Study of Women in Society at City University of New York.
Jeffe said Americans generally appear to be compartmentalizing - separating Clinton and his policy agenda from the allegations about his personal life. But among women, the trend is even more pronounced.
“And they are sticking with him for the same reasons they voted for him in droves,” Jeffe added.
The latest polling taken after Clinton’s State of the Union address showed the gender gap may be narrowing. Both men and women responded positively, but Clinton’s lowered standing among men improved the most.
That polling also came after new disclosures about the former intern, Monica Lewinsky. A former teacher, for example, said he had a long affair with Lewinsky at the same time that she was a friend of his wife’s.
Clinton has denied a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and encouraging her to lie about it, as she alleged in telephone conversations covertly taped by a friend. She said in a sworn statement Jan. 7 that there was no sexual relationship with the president.
Polls taken before Clinton’s speech underscored the difference in men’s and women’s views.
A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll conducted Sunday and Monday, for example, showed that women were more likely than men to reserve judgment on Clinton.
His favorable rating among women was 57 percent, compared with 48 percent among men. His job approval rating among women actually increased two points over what it had been 48 hours earlier. At the same time, his job approval rating among men dropped 12 points.
That poll sampled 864 adults. The margin of error for subgroups such as men and women was plus or minus five percentage points.
Other surveys picked up similar patterns.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll last weekend found that more men than women believed that Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky.
And a Los Angeles Times survey taken Friday and Saturday found women were more likely than men to think that Clinton has the integrity to be president.
“I suppose they figure he’s been the best thing they’ve had on issues,” said former Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo.
Jeffe said: “Look at the State of the Union, go program by program. They’re tailored to baby boomers, tailored to moderate women.”
Anita Perez Ferguson, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, suggested that women’s inclination against snap judgments stems in part from their desire to affirm the votes they cast in 1992 and 1996.
The “Hillary factor” also should not be dismissed, analysts said.
Clinton’s women supporters, the analysts said, are loyal to her and view the first lady, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Health and Human Resources Secretary Donna Shalala as trailblazers.