President In Crisis: Popularity polls show class divide

BILL CLINTON'S approval rating has increased since January despite revelations about his sexual behaviour and allegations of perjury, a New York Times/CBS News opinion poll showed yesterday. But the American population has become yet further polarised over its President.

One of the curious elements of the crisis has been that at cocktail parties, dinners and gatherings of the smart in Washington and across America, it is rare to hear a good word spoken about President Clinton; the country divides on class terms, and it is precisely the chattering classes who have the most negative view. Mr Clinton could say, mixing the Bible and F Scott Fitzgerald, that the poor are always with us, but the rich are different.

Those most likely to disapprove of the President are wealthy people in their fifties, and they have sharply revised their opinion downwards. Those most likely to approve of him are poor and the young middle-aged, who think better of the President. That coincides roughly with the pattern of the economy this year, as wages have risen steadily if unexcitingly, and the poorest have slightly narrowed the gap with the wealthy. The investing classes, however, are not so keen on Mr Clinton, which perhaps has something to do with turmoil on the stock market.

The poll shows the President's approval rating at 62 per cent, up from 56 per cent in January, though the proportion of those who say he shares their moral values has plummeted from 41 per cent to 29 per cent.

The poll, broken down by various categories, shows some sharp differences. Eighty-six per cent of blacks approve of Mr Clinton, up from 81 per cent, whereas the figure for whites is 58 per cent, from 52 per cent.

People with incomes under $15,000 have an overwhelmingly positive view of the President. His approval rating among them is 73 per cent, up from 62 per cent in January. Among the rich - those with incomes over $75,000 - his approval has dipped from 62 per cent to 59 per cent.

Age shows a more complex pattern. Support for the President in January was strongest among those aged 53 to 64. Support in that age group has fallen from 64 per cent to 56 per cent; in all other age groups it has increased.

There is a regional pattern, too. In most of the country, the President's approval rating has gone up by between seven and 10 points since January. In the West it has fallen however, from 59 per cent to 55 per cent. In the South, where Mr Clinton's ratings were formerly weakest, they have shot up.

Electorally, the figures offer him little comfort. The poor often do not bother to vote. The rich are the most likely to vote and - crucially, in an election year - they are the people who fund campaigns.

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