Poll: 90 Percent Believe Administration Wrongdoing in CIA Leak

In yet more bad news for the Bush administration, ninety percent of the country thinks there was some wrongdoing in the Novak-Plame-Rove-Libby CIA leak affair.

Poll: Few doubt wrongdoing in CIA leak (CNN)

Only one in 10 Americans said they believe Bush administration officials did nothing illegal or unethical in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative’s identity, according to a national poll released Tuesday. Thirty-nine percent said some administration officials acted illegally in the matter, in which the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, was revealed. The same percentage of respondents in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said administration officials acted unethically, but did nothing illegal.

The poll was split nearly evenly on what respondents thought of Bush officials’ ethical standards — 51 percent saying they were excellent or good and 48 percent saying they were not good or poor.

The figures represent a marked shift from a 2002 survey in which nearly three-quarters said the standards were excellent or good and only 23 percent said they were fair or poor.

Of course, the 2002 survey was taken during the afterglow of 9/11. Given the current political climate, the administration starts off with 50 percent thinking they’re crooked.

Given the overall disdain Americans have for politicians, the default position is that all of them are corrupt unless proven otherwise. This is especially true when there’s a special prosecutor empaneled, as Americans naturally believe that anyone suspected of a crime is probably guilty of something, which is why prosecutors can “indict a ham sandwich.”

Further, using the wording “nothing illegal or unethical” is likely to produce skewed results, as it is both a double barreled question (illegal OR unethical) and because “nothing” is a rather strong word.

Still, these numbers aren’t good. Trust is the primary currency of a president.

Update: Here are the complete poll results from USA Today. Here’s the relevant portion appropos this story:

As you may know, several members of the Bush administration have been accused of leaking to reporters the identity of a woman working for the CIA. Which of the following statements best describes your view of top Bush administration officials in these matters — some Bush administration officials did something illegal, no Bush administration officials did anything illegal, but some officials did something unethical, or no Bush administration official did anything seriously wrong?


  Illegal Unethical Nothing wrong No opinion
2005 Oct 21-23 39 39 10 12

The screening on this question is quite poor. Rather than beginning a question with “As you may know,” when they damn well may not, it would be far superior to have a screen question to see if they were aware of the issue and ask only those who did what their opinion is. If you say, “As you may know, X has been accused of horrible crime Y” you are going to get a substantial number of negative reactions even if X and Y are completely fabricated, as people are loathe to admit they don’t know something they are think they are supposed to.

Additionally, it is not clear how they divided the sample in half for Forms A and B. Regardless, the margin of error is increased substantially.

Of course, when only 10 percent think nothing illegal or unethical happened, many of these concerns are mitigated. Even a well-worded question asked only of knowledgable would have produced disastrous results for the administration. But Gallup is one of the oldest polling firms in the country; they shouldn’t be committing such elementary errors.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. FlintBol says:

    It is important to remember that Fitzgerald is a partisan hack playing political games here.

    Here are some underreported aspects of his background:

    He was once a staff lawyer for the Democratic Party of Arkansas right out of law school where he worked side-by-side with Hillary Clinton. She called him in a speech to donors, “my dear friend Pat.”

    He also was the personal lawyer for disgraced Whitewater figure Susan McDougal for a time. Sources in Arkansas indicate that he was part of some land deals used to defraud savings and loans.

    As US Attorney, he has shown too much sympathy for individuals suspected of terrorist actions. He has personally voided important aspects of the Patriot Act because of his sympathy for terrorists. Abdul la Muhhamad–a Sudanese national–was picked up in Chicago for being part of al-Quaeda and Fitzgerald resisted attempts to transfer him to Guantanamo to make it easier to torture him. He also let Muhhamad have access to his lawyer and other dangerous things to help his defense.

    There are also questions about Fitzgerald’s personal choices–he was spotted at Chicago’s Gay Pride parade on a big float with signs that said “Hey, Hey, Hey, we are gay, stay outta our way.” He is also known to frequent certain “massage parlors” in untoward parts of the city. To say that he has been “embraced” by Chicago’s rainbow community would be an understatement.

    Finally, he has also performed pro bono law work for Planned Parenthood, defending abortion doctors and trying to get protestors–who are simply exerting their first amendment rights–to be thrown in jail.

    Given all of these facts, it is clear that Ftzgerald is nothing more than a political hack and opportunist who is looking to create a record for an eventual senate run in ultra-liberal Illinois. It is shameful that he would try and destroy the credibility of the White House to do so. Please spread these facts near and far! Fitzgerald is a partisian hack.

  2. odograph says:

    You know, if you had told me 10 or 20 years ago that there would be a “tussle” between the CIA and the Vice President’s office, over the run-up to a war, and the evidence presented …

    I would never have guessed that the CIA would be playing the “dove” to the VP’s “hawk.” I would have expected that the elected officials would be more honest and responsive to the people, and that if anyone were to attempt to drag us in any particular direction it would be the faceless spooks in the CIA.

    So, in the abstract, and in my prejudices, I would tend to support the Whitehouse.

    But my expectations have been turned on their head: The spooks might be the ones defending my rights as a citizen in a democracy.

    … and I’ll take support for the democracy wherever I find it.

  3. odograph says:

    BTW, anybody wondering how that “1 in 10” could hold out in face of evidence, I give you “FlintBol” and his enlightend worldview.

  4. Bithead says:

    If anyone wonder how 90% supposedly think this WH is crooked, I give you the supposely mainstream media.

  5. odograph says:

    LOL, you’re right Bit! If they’d just shown a “test pattern” on CNN for the last 5 year we’d never have known!

    I say unplug the press, protect the scoundrels!

  6. Barry says:

    James, as usual you’re leaving a few things out. For example, Clinton enjoyed very good popularity during his investigation. Investigations, plural, rather. Like the one which started off investigating a pre-administration land deal, and, once the investigating counsel found no evidence of wrong-doing, was renewed, and run for five more years. Before accusing the president of lying under oath about a sexual affair, after all of the original charges turned out empty.

    It’s called ‘justice’, and we just might get some.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Barry: Clinton’s numbers remained strong because we were in the middle of the dot com boom and he successfully took credit for it. Bush’s numbers are low, perhaps justifiably, because of the perception that Iraq is going poorly, and, less justifiably, because of high gas prices and a relatively sluggish economy.

    The numbers on Clinton’s INTEGRITY were always awful. People just didn’t care in light of peace and prosperity.

  8. odograph says:

    James and Barry, what comes through to me in your most recent (11:17, 11:28) exchange was the partisan nature. Let me tell a story, and ask a question about that:

    In the early 80’s I was a very happy Reagan Republican. I was happy with the positive attitude, and the basic idea that it was time for the economy to grow itself out of its problems. I was happy that a hard line seemed to be bringing the Russians to the table in bilatteral arms talks.

    That said, I didn’t give Reagan a free pass. I wasn’t going to give up my right as a citizen to watch each issue develop and state my position.

    It simply did not dawn on me, as Iran-Contra developed, to fall into the argument. I didn’t even feel involved. It was an investigation into possible criminal behavior – not an argument of public policy.

    So my question really is, why do so many people act the other way, and see defense of crimes as PART of their partisan responsibility, part of public policy? Is it simple tribalism? Some kind of amoral self-interest? What?

    I’d like to see a little more population on the high ground in this. I’d like to see some agreement that you can argue political philosophies, but let the crooks (as they appear) fend for themselves.

    They simply deserve no defense from rational citizens in a democracy.

  9. ICallMasICM says:

    I hating talking about the olden days but just this once I’ll make an exception

    ‘after all of the original charges turned out empty.’

    That would be including the 18 convictions including the WJC successor as guv of AR?

    And I guess the 10% who believe “nothing illegal or unethical” was done think lying under oath is both legal and ethical. Whatever.

  10. LJD says:

    Odo- I’d say there’s a major flaw in your argument. Mainly, we’re not talking about partisan support for the President- only 10% by this poll.
    By your own reasoning, we should let the issue play out. So, where no wrongdoing has yet been proven, we should give the administration the benefit of the doubt. Ironically, just the opposite happens. It seems the public has already rendered judgement on something that may be no more than a partisan jab.

  11. odograph says:

    LJD – you’re right that there is something worth looking at here.

    I’m talking about partisan types (“talking point” bloggers, etc.) in a thread which says “Only one in 10 Americans said they believe Bush administration officials did nothing illegal or unethical in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative’s identity,”

    When I say people leave the high ground, maybe it is that they are in that 90% (they know something illegal was done), but they rise to “defend the party” regardless.

  12. odograph says:

    Oops, technical point. I should have said “they are in that 39% + 39% = 78% (they know something illegal or unethical was done)”

  13. LJD says:

    Still think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. First, as James pointed out, the way the poll was conducted is flawed. Second, you’re comparing numbers from two totally different polls (Plame vs. job approval, etc.). We all know a poll can be designed to produce just about any result you want.

    You’re still missing my point entirely, which is virtually the opposite of yours. Why do only 10% think nothing wrong occurred, when no wrongdoing whatsoever has yet been proven? MSM tarnishing, perhaps?

    I am all for accountability in politics, but with these partisan witch-hunts, who would ever want to serve their country in this way?

  14. odograph says:

    As far as problems in the poll … that’s always possible and the best answer is always the next poll.

    I don’t think I’m confused about this poll though:
    That is, the 10% who answer “nothing wrong” in the “complete poll results” box are the same as the “Only one in 10 Americans” from the first blurb.

    Finally, I think you might misunderstand my point a bit. I’m talking about people who themselves accept that something illegal or unethical was done. They may be relieved to learn later that nothing illegal or unethical was done … but what are they doing in the meantime by spinning away on talking points?

    Obviously that is not a high moral stand – to know something was wrong – but to defend it regardless.

  15. odograph says:

    Specifically on:

    “Why do only 10% think nothing wrong occurred, when no wrongdoing whatsoever has yet been proven? MSM tarnishing, perhaps?”

    I watched Fox last night, and they tried pretty hard to put me in that 10% 😉

  16. bruhaha says:

    The great pity is that, even granting that the poll is flawed and the 90% is too high, many people DO suspect wrongdoing in the White House, WITHOUT knowing very much of the actual story (thanks, in large part, to relentless partisan attacks and the biased coverage of the MSM).

    How many know, for instance, of the LIES of Joe Wilson or at least of the points he himself has taken back (e.g., his claim to have identified documents at forgeries which appeared long after his visit to Niger, and which he never saw!)? Do they even know that there is a question about whether Valerie Plame WAS a covert agent whose “cover” COULD be “blown” in 2003?

    In other words, most people don’t know even the most basic facts of the case (thank you, MSM!)

    Now add to that the fact that we are constantly encouraged to be suspicious of our elected officials (most especially of conservatives!), with hardly a thought for the many OTHERS in government. Few recognize the importance of career employees of government agencies, much less that some of these folk are unhappy with the policies of the elected government, policies they are supposed to be helping to carry out.

    In light of all this that people DON’T know, how could we possibly expect them to recognize the possibility that some of these “lifers” in the CIA (as in the State Department) might take active steps to UNDERMINE government policies?

  17. LJD says:

    I guess I shouldnt have missed FNC last night, so I could have seen what got your undies in a bunch….

    I don’t feel the need to defend the administration either. It works both ways, however: no need to make unfounded claims and attacks. I am bothered that 78% see the potential a problem where possibly none exists. Until proven otherwise, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

    We are, and have been for a while, at the point where attacks against politicians need not even be true. They just have to get press. Fortunately for the Dems, most of the media enthusiastically does their bidding. What people don’t realize is that their partisan politics doesn’t harm those across the aisle as it does our standing in the world perspective.

    But, I still don’t see the connection you’re making. So 78% in one poll think (very roughly) that “something is amiss”. In another poll, 40-something percent support the President. I think that’s the connection you’re refferring to… That although they might think he did something wrong, they still defend him.
    Sorry, it’s apples to oranges.

  18. odograph says:

    No bunched undies on this end .. no pun intended.

    I’m actually in a pretty relaxed mood. I can step back and think it is a little bit amusing that people from either extreme can complain about the MSM at the same time (and they do) … but certainly tomorrow will bring more, and other, news.