Public image of Bill Clinton

Last updated

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's public image is most notably characterized by high public approval ratings, aided by his youthful appearance, as well as his charismatic, and soundbite-ready style of speech. His personal background and lifestyle led to Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison to call him the first "black president." Clinton was also dogged by investigations throughout his presidency, particularly of sexual misconduct, damaging the public's beliefs of his trustworthiness, though his approval ratings remained high, even as his impeachment trial continued.


Public approval

Clinton's job approval rating ranged from 36% in mid-1993 to 64% in late 1993 and early 1994. [1] In his second term, his rating consistently ranged from the high-50s to the high-60s. [1] [2] After his impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999, Clinton's rating reached its highest point at 73% approval. [3] He finished with a Gallup poll approval rating of 65%, [4] higher than that of every other departing president measured since Harry Truman. [5]

As he was leaving office, a CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll revealed 45% said they'd miss him. While 55% thought he "would have something worthwhile to contribute and should remain active in public life", 68% thought he'd be remembered for his "involvement in personal scandal", and 58% answered "No" to the question "Do you generally think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy?". 47% of the respondents identified themselves as being Clinton supporters. 47% said he would be remembered as either "outstanding" or "above average" as a president while 22% said he would be remembered as "below average" or "poor". [6]

The Gallup Organization published a poll in February 2007 asking respondents to name the greatest president in U.S. history; Clinton came in fourth place, capturing 13% of the vote. In a 2006 Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll asking respondents to name the best president since World War II, Clinton ranked 3% behind Ronald Reagan to place second with 25% of the vote. However, in the same poll, when respondents were asked to name the worst president since World War II, Clinton placed 1% behind Richard Nixon and 18% behind George W. Bush to come in third with 16% of the vote. [7]

In May 2006, a CNN poll comparing Clinton's job performance with that of his successor, George W. Bush, found that a strong majority of respondents said Clinton outperformed Bush in six different areas questioned. [8] ABC News characterized public consensus on Clinton as, "You can't trust him, he's got weak morals and ethics and he's done a heck of a good job." [9] Clinton's 65% Gallup Poll approval rating was also the highest Gallup approval rating of any postwar President leaving office, one point ahead of Reagan. [10]

Public image

Clinton reading with a child in Chicago, September 1998. ClintonChild.jpg
Clinton reading with a child in Chicago, September 1998.

As the first Baby Boomer president, Clinton was the first president born after World War II. Authors Martin Walker and Bob Woodward state Clinton's innovative use of soundbite-ready dialogue, personal charisma, and public perception-oriented campaigning was responsible for his high public approval ratings. [11] [12] When Clinton played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show , Clinton was sometimes described by religious conservatives as "the MTV president." [13] Since 2000, he has frequently been referred to as "The Big Dog" or "Big Dog." [14] [15] His prominent role in campaigning for President Obama during the 2012 presidential election and his widely publicised speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where he officially nominated Obama and criticised Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Republican policies in detail, earned him the nickname "Explainer-in-Chief". [16] [17] Other nicknames include "Slick Willie", [18] "The Comeback Kid", [19] "Bubba", and "The First Black President". [20] Clinton, a Baptist, [21] has been open about his faith. [22]

Popularity among African Americans

Bill Clinton playing the saxophone Bill Clinton saxophone 8a9e10f958efc78651fa4c9fb6228e2e.jpg
Bill Clinton playing the saxophone

Clinton drew strong support from the African American community and made improving race relations a major theme of his presidency. [23] In 1998, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison in The New Yorker called Clinton "the first Black president," saying, "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas," and comparing Clinton's sex life, scrutinized despite his career accomplishments, to the stereotyping and double standards that blacks typically endure. [24]

In 2008, Morrison's sentiments were raised anew as Barack Obama, who would later become the country's first African-American president, ran for the presidency. After endorsing Obama, Morrison distanced herself from her 1998 remark about Clinton, saying that it was misunderstood. She alleged that she has "no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race" and claimed she was only describing the way he was being treated during the impeachment trial as an equivalent to a poor black person living in the ghetto. [25] Obama himself, when asked in a Democratic debate about Morrison's declaration of Clinton as "black", replied that Clinton had an enormous "affinity" with the black community, but joked he would need to see Clinton's dancing ability before judging him to be black. [26] [27]

Sexual misconduct allegations

Throughout his career, Clinton has been subject to various allegations of sexual misconduct, though only his extramarital sexual relationships with Lewinsky and Flowers have been admitted by him. [28]

For alleged misconduct during his governorship Paula Jones brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton while he was president. Clinton argued that as a sitting president, he should not be vulnerable to a civil suit of this nature. The case landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that "Deferral of this litigation until petitioner's Presidency ends is not constitutionally required." [29]

However, Republican judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas dismissed the case. [30] [31] Soon afterwards, Jones appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. [32]

During the deposition for the Jones lawsuit which was held at the White House, [33] Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky  a denial that became the basis for the impeachment charge of perjury.

On November 18, 1998, Clinton agreed to an out-of-court settlement, and agreed to pay Jones and her attorneys a sum of $850,000.00. [34] Clinton, however, still offered no apology to Jones and still denied ever engaging in a sexual affair with her. [34]

In 1998, Kathleen Willey alleged Clinton sexually assaulted her four years previously. In 1998, Juanita Broaddrick alleged she was raped by Clinton some twenty years previously. The independent counsel determined Willey gave "false information" to the FBI and inconsistent sworn testimony related to the Jones allegation. Broaddrick's only sworn testimony about Clinton was a previous denial of any harassment by Clinton. [35] Gennifer Flowers, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Sally Perdue and Dolly Kyle Browning – claimed to have had adulterous sexual relations with Clinton during or before his service as governor. Gracen later apologized to Hillary Clinton for having sex with Bill. [36] After Gracen made her claim, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr issued a subpoena to have her testify in court. Gracen, however, eluded the subpoena. [37]

Dolly Kyle Browning alleged that she and Clinton engaged in a long sexual affair from the mid-1970s until 1992. [38] Browning began writing a "semi-autobiographical novel" about the affair. In the publication process, Browning claims that Clinton did everything in his power to prohibit and undermine publication. Browning sued Clinton for damages, but the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied her appeal. [39]


A haircut Clinton received on May 13, 1993 by the stylist Cristophe aboard Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport became the subject of controversy at the time. The national media initially reported that air traffic was affected while two runways were shut down for an hour on account of the president's plane standing on the tarmac. [40]

The Washington Post mentioned "the most famous haircut since Samson's" in front page articles nine times over a six-week period, [41] and many other newspapers also seized on the story of what was called "the most expensive haircut in history". [42] Later investigations revealed that no commercial airliners had suffered significant delays, [43] but this finding was less widely reported. [44]

Related Research Articles

Bill Clinton 42nd president of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton is an American lawyer and politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Prior to his presidency, he served as governor of Arkansas and as attorney general of Arkansas (1977–1979). A member of the Democratic Party, Clinton was known as a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist "Third Way" political philosophy. He is the husband of former secretary of state, former U.S. senator, and two-time candidate for president Hillary Clinton.

Ken Starr American lawyer

Kenneth Winston Starr is an American lawyer who served as a United States circuit judge and 39th solicitor general of the United States. He is best known for heading an investigation of members of the Clinton administration, known as the Whitewater controversy.

The Clinton–Lewinsky scandal was a United States political sex scandal that involved 49-year-old President Bill Clinton and 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The sexual relationship took place between 1995 and 1997 and came to light in 1998. Clinton ended a televised speech in late January 1998 with the statement that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." Further investigation led to charges of perjury and to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 by the U.S. House of Representatives. He was subsequently acquitted on all impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a 21-day Senate trial. Clinton was held in civil contempt of court by Judge Susan Webber Wright for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Jones case regarding Lewinsky and was also fined $90,000 by Wright. His license to practice law was suspended in Arkansas for five years; shortly thereafter, he was disbarred from presenting cases in front of the United States Supreme Court.

<i>Starr Report</i> government report that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky scandal

The Starr Report, officially the Referral from Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr in Conformity with the Requirement of Title 28, United States Code, Section 595(c), is a United States federal government report by Independent Counsel Ken Starr concerning his investigation of President Bill Clinton. Delivered to the United States Congress on September 9, 1998, the allegations in the report led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the five-year suspension of Clinton's law license.

Paula Jones American civil servant

Paula Corbin Jones is an American civil servant. A former Arkansas state employee, Jones sued U.S. president Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. The Paula Jones case provided the impetus for Independent Counsel Ken Starr to broaden his on-going investigation into Clinton's pre-presidency financial dealings with the Whitewater Land Company, and resulted in Clinton's impeachment in the House of Representatives and subsequent acquittal by the Senate on February 12, 1999. Specifically, Clinton was asked under oath about Monica Lewinsky in the Jones suit, denied having ever had sexual relations with her, and was accused of perjury after evidence of sexual contact was exposed. The Jones lawsuit also led to a landmark legal precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that a sitting U.S. president is not exempt from civil litigation for acts committed outside of public office.

2008 United States presidential election 56th quadrennial presidential election in the United States

The 2008 United States presidential election was the 56th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. The Democratic ticket of Barack Obama, the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, and Joe Biden, the senior U.S. Senator from Delaware, defeated the Republican ticket of John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizona, and Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska. Obama became the first African American ever to be elected to the presidency as well as being only the third sitting United States Senator elected president, joining Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy.

Impeachment of Bill Clinton 1998 Presidential impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was initiated on October 8, 1998, when the United States House of Representatives voted to commence impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, for "high crimes and misdemeanors". The specific charges against Clinton were lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The charges stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones and from Clinton's testimony denying that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The catalyst for the president's impeachment was the Starr Report, a September 1998 report prepared by Independent Counsel Ken Starr for the House Judiciary Committee.

Historical rankings of presidents of the United States Rankings of The United States of Americas Presidents

In political studies, surveys have been conducted in order to construct historical rankings of the success of individuals who have served as the president of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political scientists or popular opinion. The rankings focus on presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures, and faults.

In the United States, presidential job approval ratings were introduced by George Gallup in the late 1930s to gauge public support for the president of the United States during their term. An approval rating is a percentage determined by a polling which indicates the percentage of respondents to an opinion poll who approve of a particular person or program. Typically, an approval rating is given to a politician based on responses to a poll in which a sample of people are asked whether they approve or disapprove of that particular political figure. A question might ask:

George W. Bush 43rd president of the United States

George Walker Bush is an American politician and businessman who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. A member of the Republican Party, he had previously served as the 46th governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000. Born into the Bush family, his father, George H. W. Bush, served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993.

Public image of George W. Bush Public perceptions of George W. Bush regarding his policies, personality and performance as head of state

George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, has elicited a variety of public perceptions regarding his policies, personality, and performance as a head of state. In the U.S. and elsewhere, journalists, polling organizations, and others have documented the expression of an evolving array of opinions of President Bush. Time magazine named George W. Bush as its Person of the Year for 2000 and 2004, citing him as the most influential person during these two years.

Bruce R. Lindsey is an American lawyer and non-profit executive. He served in the White House during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. He was named in a lawsuit during the Whitewater controversy, and he testified before a grand jury regarding the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding Bill Clinton in the run-up to his impeachment. He is a partner of Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based law firm, and serves as chairman of the Clinton Foundation.

The Democratic Party of the United States is composed of various factions, with significant overlap and enough agreement between them to coexist in one party.

The Jeremiah Wright controversy gained national attention in the United States, in March 2008 after ABC News investigated the sermons of Jeremiah Wright who was, at that time, the pastor of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. Excerpted parts of the sermons were found to pertain to terrorist attacks on the United States and government dishonesty and were subject to intense media scrutiny. Wright is a retired senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and former pastor of Obama.

Convention bounce

A convention bounce or convention bump refers to an increase in support that U.S. presidential candidates in the Republican or Democratic party typically enjoy after the televised national convention of their party. A presumptive nominee for president may also be said to experience a "VP bounce" after announcing his or her pick for vice president prior to the convention. The size and impact of convention bumps vary, but presidential candidates usually see at least a small uptick in their polling numbers coming out of their conventions.

Presidency of Barack Obama US presidential administration from 2009 to 2017

The presidency of Barack Obama began at noon EST on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 2017. Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, took office following a decisive victory over Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Four years later, in the 2012 election, he defeated Republican Mitt Romney to win re-election. He was the first African American president, the first multiracial president, the first non-white president, and the first president to have been born in Hawaii. Obama was succeeded by Republican Donald Trump, who won the 2016 presidential election.

Gallup's most admired man and woman poll is an annual poll that Gallup has conducted at the end of most years since 1948. Americans are asked, without prompting, to say what man and woman "living today in any part of the world, do [they] admire most?" The result is published as a top ten list. Most years the most admired man is the sitting President of the United States and the most admired woman is or has been the First Lady of the United States.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States (1993–2001), has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct by four women: Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of raping her in 1978; Leslie Millwee accused Clinton of sexually assaulting her in 1980; Paula Jones accused Clinton of exposing himself to her in 1991 as well as sexually harassing her; and Kathleen Willey accused Clinton of groping her without her consent in 1993. The Jones allegations became public in 1994, during Clinton's first term as president, while Willey's and Broaddrick's accusations became public in 1999, toward the end of Clinton's second term. Millwee did not make her accusations until 2016.

Historical polling for United States presidential elections

Gallup was the first polling organization to conduct accurate opinion polling for United States presidential elections. Gallup polling has often been accurate in predicting the outcome of presidential elections and the margin of victory for the election winner. However, there were some close elections that it missed, such as 1948, 1976 and 2004, the popular vote in 2000 and 2016, and the likely voter numbers in 2012. The month section in the tables represents the month that the opinion poll was conducted in. D stands for the Democratic Party while R stands for the Republican Party. There were also some third parties included in some of these polls, such as the Dixiecrats and the Reform Party.

2016 United States presidential election in Iowa

The 2016 United States presidential election in Iowa was held on November 8, 2016, as part of the 2016 United States presidential election in which all 50 states plus the District of Columbia participated. Iowa voters chose electors to represent them in the Electoral College via a popular vote pitting the Republican Party's nominee, businessman Donald Trump, and running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence against Democratic Party nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.


  1. 1 2 "Job Performance Ratings for President Clinton". Archived from the original on October 23, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  2. Bill Clinton: Job Ratings -
  3. Poll: Clinton's approval rating up in wake of impeachment - CNN, December 20, 1998
  4. "Clinton Leaves Office With Mixed Public Reaction". Gallup Polling. January 12, 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  5. "Bush Presidency Closes With 34% Approval, 61% Disapproval". Gallup Polling. January 14, 2009. Archived from the original on January 19, 2009. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  6. Poll: Majority of Americans glad Clinton is leaving office Archived October 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine - Keating Holland, CNN, January 10, 2001
  7. "Presidents and History". Retrieved June 25, 2007.
  8. Poll: Clinton outperformed Bush -
  9. Poll: Clinton Legacy Mixed,, January 17, 2001.
  10. "Historical Presidential Approval Ratings - End Of Term Plus Current Ratings". Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  11. Martin Walker, Clinton: the President they deserve, Fourth Estate 1999
  12. Bob Woodward, The choice: how Clinton won, Touchstone 1996, ISBN   0-684-81308-4
  13. Bresler, Robert J. (January 2001). "The Muddled Meaning of the 2000 Election". USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education). Retrieved January 2, 2007.
  14. Dowd, Maureen (October 22, 2000). "Liberties; Dare Speak His Name". New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2012. They're going to have to let the big dog run.
  15. Rutenberg, Jim; Zernike, Kate (September 20, 2010). "Bill Clinton Stumps for Obama". New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2012. The Big Dog, as he is known among those in the tight world of Clinton associates...
  16. McDuffee, Allen (September 6, 2012). "Bill Clinton's DNC speech as 'explainer in chief,' 'it takes some brass,' and more [AM Briefing]". The Washington Post 6 September 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  17. Poniewozik, James (September 6, 2012). "The Morning After: Obama Turns to Bill Clinton, Explainer-in-Chief". Time. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  18. Cornwell, Rupert (September 23, 2009). "'Slick Willie': Clinton's untold story Recordings shed new light on the Lewinsky scandal, Boris Yeltsin's antics and Al Gore's failed presidency bid". The Independent. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  19. Julian Borger (October 26, 2004). "Thinner and frailer, the Comeback Kid puts heart into Kerry's campaign". London: The Guardian (UK). Retrieved April 29, 2007.
  20. Morrison, Toni (October 5, 1998). "Clinton as the First Black President". The New Yorker.
  21. Amy Sullivan, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap (Simon & Schuster: 2008), p. 101.
  22. Sullivan, The Party Faithful, p. 9.
  23. A Conversation With President Bill Clinton on Race in America Today Archived July 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine - interview with Clinton, Center for American Progress, July 16, 2004.
  24. Morrison, Toni (October 1998). "Clinton as the first black president". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 1, 2006.
  25. Sachs, Andrea. "10 questions for Tony Morrison", Time, May 7, 2008. Accessed May 8, 2008.
  26. "The Democratic Debate in South Carolina". New York Times. January 21, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  27. Asking Barack Obama If Bill Clinton was the first "black president." Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  28. Clines, Francis X. (March 14, 1998). "TESTING OF A PRESIDENT: THE ACCUSER; JONES LAWYERS ISSUE FILES ALLEGING CLINTON PATTERN OF HARASSMENT OF WOMEN". The New York Times . Retrieved March 20, 2008. The Presidential deposition released today confirmed several revelations reported earlier, including Mr. Clinton's confirmation... that he had had sex with Gennifer Flowers, a one-time Arkansas worker.
  29. Clinton v. Jones , No. 95-1853U.S. .
  30. "Judge Wright's Opinion". The Washington Post. August 26, 1999.
  31. "Clinton Welcomes Jones Decision; Appeal Likely - April 2, 1998". Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  32. Baker, Peter (November 14, 1998). "Clinton Settles Paula Jones Lawsuit for $850,000". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  33. Deposition of William Jefferson Clinton, January 17, 1998
  34. 1 2 "Appeals court ponders Paula Jones settlement - November 18, 1998". Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  35. "Clinton Accuser's Story Aired, Washington Post, 1999". The Washington Post. March 14, 1999.
  36. "Former Miss America Apologizes To First Lady - April 25, 1998". Archived from the original on December 15, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  37. "Big Year for the Bad News Bearers". The Washington Post. December 24, 1998.
  38. "Legal Documents: The Dolly Kyle Browning Declaration". CNN.
  39. Browning v. Clinton No. 01-5050, June 11, 2002. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  40. Friedman, Thomas (May 21, 1993). "Haircut Grounded Clinton While the Price Took Off". The New York Times . Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  41. Geneva Overholser; Kathleen Hall Jamieson, eds. (2005). The Press. Oxford University Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN   9780195309140.
  42. Hamilton, Nigel. Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency , p. 120.
  43. "Clinton's runway haircut caused no big delays". Baltimore Sun . June 30, 1993. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  44. Shaw, David (September 17, 1993). "Did Reporters Let Their Feelings Affect Coverage?". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved April 22, 2015.