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CHARACTER


Q U I C K  T A K E

Character Issue

"CHARACTER" AS A CAMPAIGN issue has, for the past five years, been shorthand for, "Is Bill Clinton worthy to be president of the United States?" Unlike abortion, immigration or welfare reform, character as an issue has only one side; everyone's for it.

In 1992, the character issues applied to Clinton were his alleged sexual infidelities, his sidestepping the Vietnam draft, and his having smoked marijuana at Oxford.

In 1996, character is a catchall for the various ethical problems the Clinton Administration has found itself involved in: Whitewater, the White House travel office firings, the FBI files flap, Hillary Clinton's commodities trading and, most recently, campaign contributions from members of a wealthy Indonesian family.

The central question about character as a campaign issue is, "Does it work?" Clinton's string of alleged personal transgressions didn't keep him from being elected president in 1992, and GOP nominee Bob Dole has been unable to gain much traction this time around with this season's "character" issues.

Many polls show voters don't care that much about character these days. They appear to have discounted the character issue for Clinton. Things are going well, America is moving forward and Clinton's character is the least of their worries.

Clinton's personal peccadilloes have been declared off limits by Dole in this campaign, and Dole's past reputation as a "hatchet man" has made it difficult to hit Clinton even on those ethical issues that have cropped up while he's been in office.

But in 1988, two Democratic candidates were felled by character issues. Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, the presumptive favorite after a strong run against Walter Mondale in 1984, killed his candidacy dead after daring reporters to follow him around -- and then getting caught spending the night with a model in his Washington townhouse. And Delaware Sen. Joe Biden never regained his momentum after it was discovered that he plagiarized portions of his campaign speeches from a British politician.


R E L A T E D  S T O R I E S

  • Dole Lets The Character Issue Rip -- Oct. 15, 1996
  • Dole Campaign Says Clinton's Character Is Off-limits, But Is It? -- Oct. 12, 1996
  • TIME: Everybody does it Why is Clinton's character such a liability when he is no worse than other pols? -- April 29, 1996

    P U B L I C  O P I N I O N

  • Over a period of three days, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking poll split a group of 728 likely voters in two, and asked the first half, "Do you think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy?" the second half was asked, "Do you think Bill Clinton is honest and trustworthy enough to be president?"

    Honest and trustworthy

    Honest and trustworthy enough to be president

    10/11-12

    10/12-13

    10/11-12

    10/12-13

    Yes

    48%

    47%

    55%

    55%

    No

    46%

    48%

    40%

    40%

    Sampling error: +/-6 percentage points

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