GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
PRINCETON, NJ -- The recent firestorm over former President Bill Clinton's culpability for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was fueled on Tuesday when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contrasted President Bush's efforts to pursue al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden with Clinton's efforts. Clinton has strongly denied various suggestions that his administration missed key opportunities to kill bin Laden and left the Bush administration without a comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy. However, Bush -- whom Clinton says did nothing about al-Qaeda for the first eight months of his presidency -- has the bigger image problem with Americans on the issue.
According to a recent Gallup Panel survey, the American public puts the primary blame on Bush rather than Clinton for the fact that bin Laden has not been captured. A majority of Americans say Bush is more to blame (53%), compared with 36% blaming Clinton.
Clinton's reputation in this matter is far from unblemished, however. A separate question in the Sept. 21-24 survey measures the degree to which each president is blamed for the failure to capture or kill bin Laden. Forty-two percent of Americans believe Clinton deserves either a great deal or a fair amount of blame, while only 32% say he deserves no blame. However, a larger number, 53%, assign a great deal or fair amount of blame to Bush for failing to track down bin Laden.
Partisanship in High Gear
It is hard to know whether the ongoing war of words -- including a highly publicized outburst by Clinton over the weekend in an interview with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace -- is changing any minds, or merely inciting partisan loyalties. Republicans and Democrats are largely divided into opposing camps on the question of who is more to blame for bin Laden's ability to evade capture: 71% of Republicans say Clinton is more to blame while 83% of Democrats hold Bush more responsible. While a small minority in both cases, Republicans are more than twice as likely to blame Bush as Democrats are to blame Clinton (18% vs. 7%).
Clinton's strong advantage among the general public on this question comes more from the fact that political independents are closer to the Democratic side in their attitudes, with a solid majority blaming Bush more than Clinton (58% vs. 31%).
Perceptions of the degree to which each president deserves some blame for bin Laden's whereabouts are similarly partisan. The overwhelming majority of Republicans assign a great deal or fair amount of blame to Clinton, while only 24% assign this much blame to Bush. Conversely, 77% of Democrats assign high blame to Bush, versus only 23% blaming Clinton. Again, independents align more closely with the Democrats.
These results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 21-24, 2006, using the Gallup Panel. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is Â±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.