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CLINTON UNDER FIRE

Personal Ratings Are Sinking Fast

Polls: However, new surveys show Clinton is still receiving high marks for his performance on the job. Analysts wonder how long before they fall.

January 26, 1998|JONATHAN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Amid the uproar over the nature of President Clinton's relationship with a former White House intern, new public opinion polls showed Sunday that his personal favorability rating is sinking fast--even as the public grants him high marks on job performance.

Survey after survey, including a new Los Angeles Times Poll, documented a striking decline in the public's view of Clinton personally--one commentator called it a "free fall." Yet the turmoil has not torpedoed the nation's generally favorable assessment of his work in office.

An ABC News poll, for example, found that Clinton's personal favorability rating had dropped from 59% at the beginning of last week to 51% as of Saturday. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found an even sharper drop on that measure: from 57% a week ago to 40%. A Fox News survey showed Clinton's favorable rating falling from 59% on Jan. 9 to 49% on Friday.

Amid all the furor, however, 71% of respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said the country would be better off if Clinton remained in office. Similarly, 61% of those surveyed in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll expressed approval of the job Clinton is doing.

"Clinton today, in the white heat of this controversy, is still in a stronger place than Ronald Reagan was on average, during his administration," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster in Washington.

But analysts questioned how long Americans would continue to view his job performance positively without an effective response to the bombardment of allegations.

"He can't go a month with his personal approval rating plummeting like this before it drastically affects the public's approval of his performance as president," said Larry Berman, a political scientist at UC Davis.

Alluding to the fall in Clinton's personal favorability ratings, a measure analysts have previously been less interested in than job performance, Berman said: "The term free fall is appropriate, and it could go another five or 10 points within a week."

Among other new poll results Sunday:

* 60% of respondents in the CNN poll said they believed allegations that the president had an affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky were true.

* 69% of those questioned in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said Clinton was being guarded and less than honest, with just 19% maintaining he was candid and open.

* 56% of those surveyed by Fox News said they thought Clinton should step down if he were found to have encouraged Lewinsky to lie under oath.

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