The Polls: Polling for a Defense: The White House Public Opinion Apparatus and the Clinton Impeachment

By Heith, Diane J. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Polls: Polling for a Defense: The White House Public Opinion Apparatus and the Clinton Impeachment


Heith, Diane J., Presidential Studies Quarterly


The scandal surrounding President Bill Clinton and his subsequent impeachment and trial affords scholars a multitude of stories to tell--from abuses of executive privilege to partisanship run amok. One of the more interesting stories of the events of 1998 and 1999 is that of the contradictions emanating from public opinion polls as the scandal unfolded. Considerable commentary from the media, scholars, and political elites accumulated with regard to the public's seeming inability to completely condemn the president In this article, however, I will discuss Clinton's use of polls during the scandal/impeachment episode. While polling has become an important tool for presidential decision making, critics suggest that Clinton's use of the polls in this instance overstepped the bounds of propriety and perhaps violated some important democratic norms.

Presidents since Richard Nixon have incorporated polling into their White House decision making. A growing body of literature focuses on the role of public opinion in presidential decision making, as well as in the competition between the president and Congress to control opinion (Eisinger 1994; Eisinger and Brown 1998; Heith 1997, 1998, 2000; Jacobs 1993; Jacobs and Shapiro 1994, 1995, 1998, 2000). These research efforts document the rise of polling in the White House and have begun to examine the relationship between the poll apparatus and presidential leadership. During the period defined as the "awkward adolescence of presidential polling" from 1968 to 1988, the White House institutionalized the use of polls, relying on polls especially for speech writing and designing political strategies (Heith 1998, 2000). The Clinton administration continued this trend, but also seemed to be more obsessed with polls than its predecessors. As Jacobs and Shapiro (2000) observed, the Clinton administration extensively incorporated public opinion polling into its efforts to "craft" its message on health care.

The steps that the Clinton White House took immediately following the feeding-frenzied media response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, however, appear to challenge accepted norms vis-a-vis presidential polling. Clinton did not merely link a speech or even a key legislative effort to the results of a poll. On or about January 21, 1998, Clinton and Dick Morris used polling as a way to test phrases, define terms, and design a political strategy to survive a potentially contentious storm. Months later, both the Independent Council and Congress would question the president's use of the polling apparatus to design his defiant January 26, 1998, "finger wagging" speech and impeachment strategy. Why did a well-documented application of presidential polling become a subject of impeachment? Was this case a critical test for the presidential poll apparatus?

Polling in the Clinton Administration

The Clinton administration accepted the incorporation of public opinion into presidential governing from its predecessors and raised the bat. According to Edwards (1996), "The Clinton administration is the ultimate example of the public presidency, one based on a perpetual campaign and fed by public opinion polls, focus groups, and public relations memos" (p. 234). Presidential interest in public opinion and surveys dates back to Franklin Roosevelt; however, most presidents downplayed the appearance of relying on polling. Publicly, polling was forbidden for anything beyond campaign tracking. Presidents and their advisers feared the negative reaction such as that received by Lyndon Johnson for his reliance on poll numbers. For example, Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman (1994) noted how upset Nixon was with a newspaper column that quoted a staff member's assertion that the Nixon White House relied heavily on polls. Haldeman went on to note that Nixon was "most anxious to avoid any appearance of being like [Johnson]" (p. 34). Several years later, another White House staff member also warned his president (Gerald Ford) to disavow the White House polling apparatus: "I think you should not make any direct reference to a private poll (like [Johnson]) but simply use these things to strengthen your own personal convictions that the American people support you (when they do) in your policy positions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Polls: Polling for a Defense: The White House Public Opinion Apparatus and the Clinton Impeachment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.