Local News

Polls Set Tone for Presidential Strategy

Posted August 18, 1998

— Bill Clinton is more poll-driven than any president before him. So while newsgroups were asking Americans about the president, political consultants were polling people for the president. The information they collected helped them craft the speech you heard Monday night.

President Clinton chose his words carefully when he spoke Monday night. Andrew Taylor, a professor at N.C. State, says many of phrases Clinton used were tested ahead of time to determine how viewers would react.

"Trial balloons were sent out," Taylor explained. "This notion of an inappropriate relationship we were hearing about -- the president was going to say this on Saturday and Sunday and that's exactly the words he used to the public."

Although Clinton acknowledged he let his family down, he also asserted his right to a private life by stating it was nobody's business but his family's.

Polls show a majority of Americans think the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky is a private matter. Taylor believes Clinton tried to tap into that sentiment by attacking the investigation.

"Early on, when the Lewinsky matter first broke, a lot of people didn't have too much of a problem with it, because this was a matter that was between the president and first lady," recalled Taylor

Is President Clinton just saying what he thinks we want to hear? Or does polling have a legitimate role in shaping the president's message?

"Some people say it's a lack of leadership and others say it's a good thing because, of course, you want your leadership to know what the public is thinking," said Taylor.

Taylor says the length of the investigation actually works in the president's favor. Americans have had seven months to form their opinions, and many are now ready to set the whole matter aside.


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