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PRESIDENT'S POPULARITY FALLS NEARLY 10 PERCENT, POLL FINDS

Voters approve of President Clinton's decision to bomb suspected terrorist sites and his overall performance as president -- but the White House sex scandal is sapping the president's personal popularity.

Three days after a national poll commissioned by The Buffalo News found that 54.9 percent of voters viewed Clinton favorably, a similar poll Friday found that Clinton's "favorability rating" had fallen to 45.6 percent.

John Zogby of Zogby International, which did the polls for The News and other newspapers, said that's a significant drop that shows voters are increasingly displeased with Clinton's actions in the Monica S. Lewinsky affair.

"His favorability rating is down considerably," Zogby said. "And the favorability rating shows how voters feel about the president personally."

Despite their increasing discomfort with Clinton, voters remain happy with his performance.

Some 57 percent of voters surveyed in the poll released Friday said they approve of Clinton's performance in office -- up from 56.5 percent on Tuesday.

The poll of 509 voters has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Zogby said Clinton's job performance ratings remain high for an obvious reason.

"There's a general feeling that the country is headed in the right direction, that the economy is good," Zogby said.

And that means if they were to rerun the 1996 election, most voters would choose Clinton again.

The poll showed 45.7 percent would vote for Clinton again, while 33.6 percent would vote for Republican nominee Bob Dole and 6.7 percent would vote for independent candidate Ross Perot.

The bombing of suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan appeared to have had little impact on voters' feelings toward Clinton.

A majority of voters -- 57 percent -- said the bombings will have no effect on their opinion about whether Clinton should remain in office.

An overwhelming 69.1 percent of the voters surveyed said they supported the bombings, however, and a plurality of 45.3 percent think such actions will help reduce terrorism.

Claude E. Welch, a political science professor at the University at Buffalo, said he expected Clinton's performance rating to look good in the wake of the bombings.

"Strong actions such as this have a temporary blip effect in raising public regard for the president," said Welch, who teaches foreign policy classes.

While support for the president's performance seemed strong, that support may not last, Welch warned.

"The long-term effect of these (military) actions is negligible," Welch said. "Much broader currents are more important -- the economy, or the matter of speaking an untruth under oath."

The latest Zogby poll proves that point. Like previous polls, it showed that Clinton should consider resigning if it turns out he did lie under oath.

Some 49.3 percent of voters surveyed Friday said Clinton should consider leaving office if he lied in his testimony in the Paula Jones case. That compares to 46.3 percent who thought that in a poll conducted Tuesday, a day after Clinton's televised address in which he confessed to an improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.

Similarly, 62.6 percent surveyed Friday said he should consider resigning if he lied in his grand jury testimony in the Lewinsky matter. That compares to 65.1 percent who felt that way Tuesday.

And if Clinton encouraged anyone else to lie under oath, 60.5 percent said Friday that he should consider quitting.

Some 63.1 percent said on Tuesday that the president should consider quitting in such circumstances.

Despite their obvious concerns about the Lewinsky situation, voters in the latest poll largely scoffed at the "Wag the Dog" scenario, in which, just like in the movie, the president would have concocted a military action to draw attention away from a sex scandal.

Only 9.5 percent said they thought Clinton ordered the bombings to distract attention from the Lewinsky saga.

Voters should scoff at that theory, said Ilana Kass, a professor of military strategy at the National War College in Washington, who spoke at a conference on diplomacy at the Chautauqua Institution Friday.

"I think it's highly unfair to question the president's intentions," she said. "It's sad that a very appropriate action such as these bombings could even be considered in that light. It's way too cynical."

Most voters aren't that cynical, though. Other polls Friday also showed strong support for the president and his military action against terrorism.

Support for the attacks on the terrorist strikes ran from 66 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll to 80 percent in an ABC News poll.

The president's approval rating stood at 61 percent in the Gallup Poll, 65 percent in the ABC News poll and 69 percent in an NBC News poll.

Such findings come as no surprise, said Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution.

"This is emblematic of the Clinton presidency . . . you go from the utter depths to a peak," Mann told the Associated Press.

"People see him at his worst and then see him at his best, initiating a military strike that seems well-justified, being strong and resolute."

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