In the Spotlight

News & Features
Minnesotans Have Wait and See Attitude
About Clinton Allegations
By Mark Zdechlik
January 29, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

See complete poll results.

A Minnesota Public Radio, KARE-11 TV, St. Paul Pioneer Press poll found most Minnesotans likely to vote do not think president Clinton should resign if he had an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinski. However, those polled said if the President has attempted to convince anyone to lie under oath, he should step down.

IT SEEMS BY NOW almost everyone knows something about allegations the President had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinski and Clinton is denying any such relationship.

An unscientific sampling of people in the parking lot of a St. Paul grocery store found those with an interest in talking about the scandal tended to back the President.

Musher: I'm Marlaine Musher, I live here in St. Paul. I believe it's all politics, what they're doing. He's doing a good job, I think. What a person does in your own private doings is your business, I say.
"Katie" thinks Clinton is being set up by Republican enemies. And she says even if he had the affair, it's not ground for resignation.
Katie: Morally, yes, it is a very big deal, but he's doing a wonderful job as far as I'm concerned and I guess that's the bottom line.
One man who didn't give his name called the developing scandal a national embarrassment.
I think it's pathetic that we have such people with such low morals and ethics to be involved in all this sort of stuff. I think it's demeaning to the whole country.
Several others said they didn't know what to think

What we found in the parking lot came close to what pollsters discovered when they conducted a scientific survey. Last night (Jan. 28, 1998) they questioned 418 likely Minnesota voters about Clinton. 33 percent of those questioned said they do not believe the President is telling the truth when he denies he's had sexual relations with Monica Lewinski. 27 percent think Clinton is telling the truth. 40 percent weren't sure. 42 percent of respondents said they do not think Clinton told anyone to lie under oath about the allegations against him. 23 percent said they thought he did. 35 percent weren't sure.

We also asked: If Clinton did have an affair with Lewinski - Should he resign? 65 percent of our respondents said no. When asked: If Clinton told anyone to lie under oath about the allegations - Should he resign? 60 percent said yes.

Our poll also found 70 percent of Minnesotans rate Bill Clinton's performance as president as good or excellent. The poll results have a margin or error of plus or minus five percent.

Carlton College professor of political science, Steven Schier, says, like national polls, the latest survey of Minnesotans shows Clinton's image is rebounding with the passage of time. Schier also says the poll shows Minnesotans are making clear distinctions between personal issues and government business.

Schier: It seems to me that most Minnesotans have decided that a person's - that a President's private life, really, as long as it doesn't involve violations of the law - need not be considered as a factor in evaluating his presidency. And that may be a new consensus. We've never really been forced to address this question in quite this way before. And it may open up new latitude for presidential behavior in the future of a sexual sort.
On the issue of whether Clinton is telling the truth about the allegations Schier says the poll shows Minnesotans want more information.
Schier: The poll suggests to me that people are in a wait and see orientation. And, by the way, if I could give advice, I would say don't make your mind up yet. Wait and see what the future evidence is. And I think a lot of Minnesotans are doing that. A lot of them are saying "Not sure, wait and see," and that I think is the prudent response right now.
Schier notes, about two-thirds of Minnesotans weighing in on the issue of "Do you believe the President?" are giving Clinton the benefit of the doubt by saying they think he is telling the truth or that they don't know. Schier says Clinton is getting a break from Minnesotans because of his strong base of support here.

The poll also found a majority of Minnesotans think the allegations against the President are serious, and warrant scrutiny, but that the scandal will not detract from Clinton's ability to lead the country.

On the issue of Independent Council Ken Starr's investigation of the Clinton Administration, 44 percent of respondents said the process is unfair and partisan, 28 percent view it is fair, another 28 percent said they weren't sure.

University of Minnesota Political Scientist Steve Smith says the President's support in Minnesota could cave in rapidly if it turns out Clinton has been lying. Smith says the number of undecideds in the poll show it's too early to assess the long-term fallout.

Smith: So while there seems to be a plurality among those willing to express a point of view, who believe Clinton for the time being, there are an awful lot of undecideds out there. And I think since politics is a game of margins, we still have to wait to see what the rest of those Minnesotans end up thinking about Clinton.
And Smith says, ironically, just hearing and reading about the poll results will likely help more Minnesotans make up their minds.
Smith: The poll itself influences public opinion, oddly enough, because it helps to tell someone whether or not their view is in line with the rest of the country. Maybe you've missed something: "Oh, maybe I'm - OK, my view's been reinforced. I guess I'm right." I think we should be a little bit concerned about how these polls end up shaping these events.
Political scientist Steve Smith from the University of Minnesota.