Minnesotans on Clinton: good job, so-so character

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 1998 - 11:00 PM

Even as the pile of evidence about President Clinton's alleged misdeeds has grown, Minnesotans' assessment of him has existed on a dual track: They love the job he's doing, but they're not so sure about the man himself.

The most recent Star Tri bune/KMSP-TV Minnesota Poll, conducted on the eve of Monday's release of Clinton's grand jury testimony, shows that 68 percent of Minnesotans approve of Clinton's performance as president, virtually the same level of support found by the poll a month ago. That approval rating is slightly higher than a number of recent national polls, not unusual in a state where support for Clinton has generally been higher than it has been nationwide.

At the same time, though, only 46 percent say they have a favorable overall impression of Clinton, a tumble of about 15 percentage points in two years.

And the poll makes it clear that the man and the job have become unhooked in the minds of a substantial number of Minnesotans. About one in six approves of his performance yet has an unfavorable impression of him.

Albert Hanson, a paper-plant press operator who lives in Bemidji, is one of those Minnesotans: "He's doing a good job as president, but his personal life sure could be improved. I'd say they should drop the whole thing and let him finish out his term. Let him do his own thing."

There's a fairly deep reservoir of that sentiment among Minnesotans, most of whom want to see Clinton finish his term. Only 30 percent want Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings, while 58 percent want Congress to drop the whole matter. Those sentiments are closely tied to party and ideology: 59 percent of all Republicans want the hearings, compared with 16 percent of all Democrats. About half of all self-described conservatives favor impeachment, vs. 18 percent of liberals.

An even bigger majority -- 67 percent -- say Clinton should not resign. But Minnesotans aren't prepared to let him off the hook completely: 56 percent support the idea of Congress passing a resolution censuring Clinton.

Underlying queasiness  

The poll respondents were interviewed between Wednesday and Sunday, and presumably they had time to absorb the points made in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But their attitudes about Clinton were measured before  Monday's release of Clinton's grand jury testimony and more than 3,000 pages of evidence about the relationship, so it's impossible to know how (or whether) that information will affect their opinions.

Even in the ranks of Clinton's staunchest supporters, though, exists underlying queasiness about his behavior. The largest bloc of poll respondents -- 44 percent -- gives Clinton a thumbs-up for his job performance and retains a favorable impression of him. But follow-up interviews Monday with several of these Minnesotans showed that they don't approve of his sexual indiscretions, his subsequent lying -- or both.

Amy Dorumsgaard, a youth worker from Minneapolis, is a strong backer of Clinton and his performance. But after watching some of his videotaped testimony Monday, she said she was "real conflicted because I'm not sure what's going on there. I'm left not knowing what to believe, whether it's true or not true. If it turned out he did  lie, probably he should step down."

Gayle Tofte, a farmer from rural Big Stone County, is similarly ambivalent. "Though I don't like what he did, and how he did it in relation to Lewinsky, based on the job he's done and will probably continue to do, we should just leave him alone," she said. "Yes, he screwed up -- now let's get past it. Besides, probably 99 percent of the whole investigation was politically motivated."

Among Clinton's most ardent backers, there's palpable hostility toward Starr that coexists with a reluctance to imbue Clinton with overarching moral authority. "Ken Starr should not have done this -- the whole thing was a setup," said Beth Anderson, a factory worker from Rochester. "So maybe Clinton boo-booed. Who teaches morals in this country? Parents do -- the president doesn't. He's running the United States, even if he did something someone in his capacity shouldn't have done."

View of Starr  

Then there are those Minnesotans who are most deeply alienated from Clinton: the 28 percent who both have a negative impression of him and don't approve of his performance as president.

"I'd prefer to have him resign because I don't like what's going to happen the rest of his term if he doesn't," said David Sides, a retired computer developer from Burnsville. "His ability to act as president here and overseas is going to be so hampered."

Sides, a former Clinton backer, said he voted for him "because his policies seemed to be in the right direction. But the execution was always badly flawed. And this business of lying under oath was just the last nail for me. I could care less about his sex life, but it has come out that he has committed perjury."

Tangled as Minnesotans' attitudes about Clinton may be, they have a more unified (and negative) view of Starr: 56 percent have an unfavorable impression of him, while 21 percent have a favorable impression -- thumbs down, nearly 3-1.

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