AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank Kirk Randazzo, Lonna Atkeson, Anthony Coveny, and Regina Lawrence for their useful comments on this manuscript. We also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers, who provided careful and constructive criticism of the early versions of this manuscript.
Why Did Clinton Survive the Impeachment Crisis? A Test of Three Explanations
Article first published online: 30 JUL 2007
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Volume 37, Issue 3, pages 468–485, September 2007
How to Cite
SILVA, C. L., JENKINS-SMITH, H. C. and WATERMAN, R. (2007), Why Did Clinton Survive the Impeachment Crisis? A Test of Three Explanations. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 37: 468–485. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2007.02607.x
- Issue published online: 30 JUL 2007
- Article first published online: 30 JUL 2007
In Federalist no. 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the impeachment process is a decidedly political one. We use data from a national survey conducted in September and October 1998 to examine explanations for Bill Clinton's survival of the impeachment crisis: the robust economy, his own high popular standing with the public, and the concomitantly lower public evaluations of his principal investigators, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. Our analysis demonstrates that the performance of the U.S. economy did directly influence public support for impeachment, resignation, continued congressional hearings, and censure (four potential punishment options), but not in the manner most often hypothesized. More favorable assessments of the U.S. economy actually were related to higher levels of support for punishing the president. Evaluations of the president proved to be a double-edged sword. Although higher evaluations of Clinton's personal job approval ratings and of his personal ethics ratings are related to lower levels of support for punishment, Clinton benefited more from the former than the latter, as his approval ratings were high while the public held considerable doubts about his ethics. Finally, we show that higher public evaluations of Clinton's primary investigators, Starr and the U.S. Congress, were related to higher levels of support for punishing the president. As both actors had an exceedingly low average approval rating, however, this dynamic worked to Clinton's advantage.