Tbe Paradox of Presidential Popularity, with an emphasis on Rhetoric

Amanda Wiley, Ouachita Baptist University


This study considers how President Bill Clinton maintained consistently high levels of public support in the face of the incessant scandals that plagued his presidency. It is my assessment that it is the nature of the presidency, Clinton's political skill, the economic environment during his terms, Clinton's rhetoric, and his personality that made his survival possible. I will place special emphasis on the areas of Clinton's personality and rhetoric as the key components for this explanation, both because I feel these characteristics are most relevant to my study and the most unexplored.

Polling data reveals a high job approval rating of Clinton at the time he left office. Early in his presidency, Clinton's numbers were less than impressive. However, as the government shut down of early 1996, columnist David Moore writes, " ... Clinton's approval rating moved permanently above the 50% level, and never fell below 52% after that." When Clinton left office, he had the highest job approval rating that any president had received in the past fifty years. In January of 2001, sixty-five percent of Americans approved of the manner in which Clinton performed the functions of president. Conversely, the numbers concerning personal approval were clearly lower at forty-one percent.

These strong ratings, even after very public scandal, are one of the reasons l chose to make this inquiry. The numbers regarding dates closely associated with scandal add to the contradictory nature of Clinton's relationship to the American public. In fact, as author David Moore writes, "Clinton's highest ratings came during the Lewinsky scandal ... the only time that Clinton received a rating above 70% was immediately after the House of Representatives impeached him and sent the charges to the Senate for trial. " When President Clinton testified before a grand jury concerning an alleged Lewinsky cover up, Clinton's job approval rating rose six points. These reports, coupled with data that indicates that less than half of Americans think Clinton is a good person, created an enigma worthy of exploration.