Scandals Having Seemingly No Impact On Public Opinion Of President Obama

So far, three weeks of bad news hasn't really had much of an impact on the public's view of how President Obama is handling his job.

obama-presidential-seal

Another poll seems to indicate that nearly three constant weeks of stories about scandals ranging from Benghazi to the IRS to the Justice Department’s aggressive pursuit of journalists during the course of leak investigations isn’t having much of an impact on how the public views the President:

Majorities of Americans believe that the Internal Revenue Service deliberately harassed conservative groups by targeting them for special scrutiny and say that the Obama administration is trying to cover up important details about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans last year.

But a new Washington Post-ABC News poll also finds that allegations of impropriety related to the controversies have yet to affect President Obama’s political standing.

The president’s approval rating, at 51 percent positive and 44 percent negative, has remained steady in the face of fresh disclosures about the IRS, the Benghazi attack and the Justice Department’s secret collection of telephone records of Associated Press journalists as part of a leak investigation.

A bare majority of Americans say they believe that Obama is focused on issues that are important to them personally; just 33 percent think so of congressional Republicans. Brighter assessments of the economy may be one reason that the president has been able to weather controversies. For the first time since the 100-day mark of Obama’s first term, most say they are optimistic about the direction of the economy. More than half, 56 percent, say the economy is on the mend, the most to say so in polls since 2009.

After two months of clearly negative ratings over his handling of the economy, Obama has climbed back to about even, with as many now approving as disapproving of his performance on this front. The president also holds a nine-percentage-point advantage over congressional Republicans on the issue.

At the same time, improving attitudes about the economy have not boosted feelings about the country’s overall direction: A solid majority continues to say that the nation is seriously off course.

Obama’s job-performance numbers have changed little over the past couple of months, but the stability of those ratings come with an obvious caveat. Information continues to emerge about the administration’s role in the IRS case, as well as new details about the Benghazi attack and the circumstances under which the Justice Department acted to secure records from the AP.

As I’ve suspected, the IRS scandal is the one that seems to resonate with the public:

The IRS scandal, in particular, has touched a nerve with the public. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the tax agency’s decision to target conservative groups was inappropriate, with most saying they feel “strongly” that it was wrong. A majority, 56 percent, see the IRS action as a deliberate effort to harass these groups; far fewer, 31 percent, describe it as an administrative mistake.

Condemnation of the IRS action cuts across party lines, with big majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents alike deeming it inappropriate. But although most Republicans and independents critical of the IRS activity consider it illegal, Democrats are more apt to view the targeting of the groups as inappropriate but not illegal.

There is a similar partisan split over whether what occurred amounted to deliberate harassment or an administrative mistake. Majorities of Republicans (72 percent) and independents (59 percent) call it deliberate harassment; just 44 percent of Democrats agree.

Cross-party divisions are even wider on the question of whether the administration has been forthright about what it knows about the IRS case. About three-quarters of Republicans accuse the administration of a coverup, while about two-thirds of Democrats say the administration has been honestly disclosing what it knows.

There also seems to be some potential danger for the Administration in the Benghazi story:

Obama has called the hearings a partisan sideshow, and White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer called the GOP-led efforts “partisan fishing expeditions” during a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows. Americans are evenly split on the motivations of Republicans: 44 percent say they are raising legitimate concerns, while 45 percent see only political posturing. But those numbers mask a wide partisan gulf, with 74 percent of Republicans seeing the GOP-led investigation as legitimate and 71 percent of Democrats sensing political opportunism.

Most Americans, 55 percent, say they think that the Obama administration is trying to cover up facts about the Benghazi attack; 33 percent say the administration is honestly disclosing what it knows. Among Republicans, the sense of a coverup jumps to 81 percent. About 60 percent of independents also see deception in the matter, as do 29 percent of Democrats.

At the same time, though, Charlie Cook notes that Republicans should take note of the fact that Americans don’t seem to be paying nearly as much attention to these stories as partisan Republicans seem to be:

Maybe that will change. Maybe these allegations will start getting traction with voters. But it might just be that Americans are more focused on an economy that is gradually coming out of the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Most economists say the current quarter will show a slowdown in economic growth from the first quarter’s 2.5 percent pace, but they expect the economy to be stronger in the second half of this year. People may be encouraged by housing prices rising and the stock market setting record highs—and their retirement accounts may actually be looking better. The University of Michigan’s widely watched Consumer Sentiment Index is at the highest level since 2007, before the recession. The Conference Board’s more volatile Consumer Confidence Index is also generally moving up, although it isn’t at the record level of the Michigan index. The National Federation of Independent Business’s Index of Small Business Optimism, which took a deep plunge after the election, increased last month and is on an upward trend since the beginning of the year. Maybe the people and businesses polled have written off Washington as a political cesspool, and so these stories don’t affect them much. Perhaps they see this town as a place that can’t seem to get anything right.

One wonders how long Republicans are going to bark up this tree, perhaps the wrong tree, while they ignore their own party’s problems, which were shown to be profound in the most recent elections. Clearly none of these recent issues has had a real impact on voters yet. Republicans seem to be betting everything on them, just as they did in 1998—about which even Newt Gingrich (who was House speaker that year) commented recently to NPR, “I think we overreached in ’98.”

Republicans and conservatives who are so consumed by these “scandals” should ask themselves why, despite wall-to-wall media attention and the constant focus inside the Beltway—some are even talking about grounds for impeachment—Obama’s job-approval needle hasn’t moved.

Absent solid evidence that someone close to the President was involved in the IRS scandal, or was directing people in the IRS to target the 501(c)(4) applications of conservative groups, or something more explosive about Benghazi than we’ve already seen, it seems to me as though it’s unlikely that this is going to change. Right now, these stories, and the hearings that are taking place on Capitol Hill, are getting a lot of media attention right now. As we head into the slow news season of the summer, that’s likely to continue. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that many hearings of this type — including both the Watergate and Iran/Contra hearings —- hit their peak during the summer. However, that doesn’t mean that this is going to inure to the political benefit of the Republican Party. In the end, Americans may end up viewing this nothing more than another one in the long running series of partisan disputes that have gripped Washington during the Obama Administration and, indeed, in the years before it. If that’s the case, then the GOP may find that there’s not much of a political payoff from all of this.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Congress, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    Wolf!

  2. Woody says:

    This demonstrates a truly under-appreciated aspect of the talk radio model: one can only maintain interest and passion by steadily raising the stakes (perils, dangers, anger) of the listener. How long has BENGHAZI! been playing at the Rightwing Playhouses? Where else to go but impeachment?

    Combined with the sweeping success of News Corp’s profound capture of the general population’s conservative demographic, the statistics quoted above are hardly surprising. Of course a high percentage of rightwing media consumers will believe the President is only capable of betrayal (heck, just read the chyrons during Fox and Friends . . . the ‘friendly’ Fox News program). However, these numbers just won’t play outside the Kookoon.

  3. stonetools says:

    This is going to be quite the summer. The Republicans are hoping that there is “something there” to these scandals. I think its likely there’s nothing there.
    By the end of the summer, the Republicans will likely have accomplished nothing but make themselves look like ridiculous conspiracy theorists. And of course there will be more budget wankery, although the deficit has gone away as an issue-at least for rational folk.
    I think the GOP may end up losing a lot of credibility if they waste time and resources on these “scandals.” Unfortunately, they may not have a choice.The Republicans and their carnival barkers in the media have psyched their base up so much, that they have to pursue these issues, no matter what, and come up with “results” as well.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    As hinted at above, it’s an unintended consequence of the extreme polarization and radicalization of politics brought on chiefly by right wing media like Fox and Limbaugh. Cry Wolf! too often and people stop listening. Cry on behalf of Tea Party groups and a Fox reporter and no one cares — it is all seen as politics, nothing but more of the same.

    Benghazi and the other imaginary scandals end up inoculating Mr. Obama when a real scandal pops up. The IRS thing is real, and it’s a problem. The Rosen thing is real. The AP thing is real. Impeachable? Not even close. As scandals go these range from about a 2 out of ten to maybe a 5 out of ten. People get that. And so the baying of extremist hounds crying for impeachment ends up as just more noise from the rabid right.

    But some people, who in my opinion should know better, draw the wagons around Mr. Obama and refuse to acknowledge that there is some genuinely troubling stuff that deserves investigation. This is not all a right wing plot. But public indifference is the result in large measure of five years of unrelenting right wing hate propaganda.

  5. Jr says:

    This isn’t surprising.

    The economy’s improvement+Obama’s personal popularity+unpopularity of critics(GOP and Press)=Good approval ratings

  6. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Woody has it exactly right! If what you peddle is outrage, you can only keep it up by straining further and further away from reality. Problem is, you can’t bring everyone along.

    If that was just the base, though, it wouldn’t change much. The base will keep voting for you more or less. Where else are they going to go? The problem is when the people in office are actually insane, you can’t keep playing this game without consequences. As it is, I’d like to know what this means for actual policy. I suspect that when the summer has gone by and they see that they haven’t accomplished anything, their demands will become even more ridiculous and playing with the debt limit might just be the ticket. Half of them don’t even know how the financial system works, in any case, so why not invite catastrophe?

    My dream scenario would be that nothing of the sort happens, the Dems retake the House and some actual job legislation gets passed, but that seems like an impossible pipe dream.

  7. Latino_in_Boston says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s possible there’s something there, Michael, but as you point out, in terms of government incompetence, it’s something to note and fix (which incidentally, I believe Congress propitiated it, in any case), not something to precipitate a constitutional crisis for.

    But I honestly can’t tell if they will be able to help themselves. There’s people within the GOP caucus who have been itching to impeach Obama from day one, will they really let this go without forcing their case? Consequences be damned.

  8. Anderson says:

    It’s a 27% circle-jerk.

  9. If that’s the case, then the GOP may find that there’s not much of a political payoff from all of this.

    Now, now. All we need to do is impeach Obama and good things will happen. We’ll all get a tax cut, and since we’ll have more money in our pockets, we can ditch some of these entitlement programs. We’ll put the kibosh on industrial and commercial regulations finally. Then once we finish our economic agenda, we’ll start on our social one. We’ll ask the Pope first before we pass any laws, which means gay marriage and stem cells will be banned and contraception? Yeah, that won’t be easy.

    And when we’re done with that, foreign policy……everyone loves the Republicans’ foreign policy.

  10. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But some people, who in my opinion should know better, draw the wagons around Mr. Obama and refuse to acknowledge that there is some genuinely troubling stuff that deserves investigation. This is not all a right wing plot. But public indifference is the result in large measure of five years of unrelenting right wing hate propaganda.

    I think there is a lot of difference between saying “This deserves heightened scrutiny in the future, and even investigation now. ” Quite a few liberals would agree with that. But that’s not what the Republicans are doing.
    It puts liberals in a dilemma. If they agree that, for example, Benghazi investigations should continue,( and even now, there are legit questions to be asked- like, about the CIA presence) it gives the Republicans cover to continue with their scandal mongering.
    Its like the Iraq War resolution. There were legit reasons for the Democrats to vote for that too.

  11. Lynda says:

    I think that Republicans have two problems 1) They have failed to tie any scandal so far to any specific action that Obama (or Hillary Clinton) have done 2) That point one is clearly their primary goal rather than actually solving any real or perceived issues.

    For example with Benghazi they could have focused on the security lapses detailed in the independent panels review. Both Defense and State department personnel work in war zones and neither can do their jobs hiding behind reinforced concrete at all times but we do need to provide as much security for them as realistically possible. So Republicans could have focused on funding for outposts, security personnel levels and training, emergency evacuation equipment etc. Instead they have focused on who altered talking points when.

    For the IRS issue they could have focused on the Byzantine tax code and that its very complexity encourages abuse either by innocent intent or malicious design. Instead they have focused on political influence on a department that only has two political appointees for a very good reason and their only solution seems to be to do away with the IRS altogether.

    As for the AP and Rosen stories the Republicans have claimed that our nation is incredibly vulnerable and have used that as a basis for all types of intrusion into personal liberty from the Patriot Act to indefinite detention in Guantanamo to torture. I am concerned that the Obama administration seems to have carried on some of these policies but does anyone think they would really be any different if it was Romney as president? If Republicans cared specifically about press freedom they could support some press Shield laws that made it much harder to investigate the press but at every turn they have rejected that. Other than “trust us we are Republicans” exactly how would press freedoms be protected by future Republican leaders?

    If Republicans want any of this to stick they have to not only prove that Obama did things wrong but also explain how they would be different. I won’t hold my breath.

  12. Caj says:

    It’s not surprising. Majority of sensible people see all these so scandals as sheer nonsense.
    Time wasting when Congress should be governing instead of stalling and investigating everything under the sun! The American people are not stupid. The stupid ones here are the Republicans who think these silly games will get them what they want in 2016! Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact they are digging a bigger and bigger hole for themselves! By them doing nothing that will help improve the lives of many who still need jobs, the anger of the people will be seen on voting day!!

  13. Steve V says:

    I was listening to Hannity’s radio show yesterday and he was saying he has “sources” with as-yet unrevealed information about Benghazi that are going to, when revealed, “blow the lid off it.” This would seem to be a tacit admission that what’s been revealed so far hasn’t been particularly scandalous … but never mind that. All I could think about was the whitey tape.

  14. anjin-san says:

    As long as the right wing political/media rage machine remains profitable, they will be content to peddle anger and rake in the chips. It has nothing to do with governing, and everything to do with money.

  15. Caj says:

    @Steve V:

    Wow! Hannity sounds like Donald Trump who sent investigators down to Hawaii to find ‘the goods’ on President Obama! When you are stupid you are stupid and those two are as stupid as they come! Still when there is just one brain cell to share between so many as in Palin, West,Trump, Hannity, Beck and Limbaugh common sense is non existent. You have to feel sorry for them really and they actually think they are right!!

  16. Latino_in_Boston says:

    @Steve V:

    and that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it?

    No one can prove you don’t have “sources”, which for all we know is his next door neighbor. And if you want to be in the know, you have to keep listening. Of course, these never appear, and if someone calls you on it, you do as Rush Limbaugh did the other day:

    “Impeachment is right, but no one is going to do it, because of political correctness. Everyone is too afraid of the first black President.” Incidentally, wait till 2016 when every right-wing nut will take it as a matter of fact that the only reason Obama served the end of his term is because he was black.

  17. merl says:

    @mantis: They can’t help themselves, they desperately want payback for Nixon’s impeachment so they jump on every little thing that comes along and blow it all out of proportion. Issa knew about the IRS thing before the election and knew it was nothing. Now they have to motivate the mouth breathers for ’14.
    If a real scandal ever comes along it’ll be ignored, too.

  18. Paul Hooson says:

    I’ve noticed Gallup support steady for the president. Most people in the public like him, he has 5 times the approval rating of congress, for example, and most people don’t view him as anything other than a decent and well meaning man. He’s much like a mayor running a city more than a president, when the country could really use a stronger president instead. That’s a weakness of his. But, the public likes him overall despite any leadership weakness he has.

    Where his critics have misjudged and overplayed their hand with these claimed scandals is to take isolated events such as the isolated case of one or two IRS employees out of a bureau that hires 106,000 employees and attempt to fish for some sort of conspiracy involving the White House as if the White House somehow is personally responsible for the conduct of every employee of government. All of these claimed scandals are based on equally absurd reasoning by the critics of the president. – There is nothing that even looks close to a Watergate here.

    Critics of the president are certainly free to disagree with him or such. But, the hope of building scandals blaming the White House out of isolated problems in some government agencies only begs the absurd so far.

  19. stonetools says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    ve noticed Gallup support steady for the president. Most people in the public like him, he has 5 times the approval rating of congress, for example, and most people don’t view him as anything other than a decent and well meaning man. He’s much like a mayor running a city more than a president, when the country could really use a stronger president instead. That’s a weakness of his. But, the public likes him overall despite any leadership weakness he has.

    I would disagree here . This falls into the trap of believing that we could get things moving in Washington again if only the President would LEAD!. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, the President doesn’t have magical LEAD! powers. What he can do in present conditions is pass legislation if his party has filibuster-proof majorities in Congress. He himself thought differently at one time, but he was 100 per cent wrong.
    Now I believe he should have a more offensive minded media strategy. I think one of his problems is that the Administration goes into a defensive crouch over these things and that they don’t bluntly point out things like Republicans lying about changing the talking points.

    Still, the defensive crouch strategy seems to be working so far, because the Republicans overreach, then look like buffoons. However, they only look like buffoons to us reality based folk. To the the Republican true believers, of course, they are fearless seekers of the truth, and that motivates the Congressional Republicans to keep “investigating.”

  20. becca says:

    Ana Marie Cox nailed it. The GOP isn’t so much like “the boy who cried wolf”, but more like “the boy that cried and cried and cried and just wouldn’t stop crying”.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Let’s face it. If Obama cured cancer tomorrow, their would be cries of outrage from the right about how he had thrown Alzheimer’s sufferers under the bus.

  22. bill says:

    my opinion hasn’t changed either, i knew he was bad for the job and he still is.

  23. anjin-san says:

    i knew he was bad for the job and he still is.

    Right. Let’s go back to the day before Obama took office. 500K job losses a month. Stock market freefall. Banks ready to collapse. Trillions in wealth vanishing. On the verge of a depression, which would make today’s economic problems look like kisses from a prom queen.

    I can see why you miss it.

  24. wr says:

    @anjin-san: “Let’s face it. If Obama cured cancer tomorrow, their would be cries of outrage from the right about how he had thrown Alzheimer’s sufferers under the bus. ”

    Or thrown cancer under the bus… It has a right to life, too, you know! It’s made of cells. Jeebus made it.

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @Steve V:

    I was listening to Hannity’s radio show yesterday and he was saying he has “sources” with as-yet unrevealed information about Benghazi that are going to, when revealed, “blow the lid off it.”

    Probably the same credible “sources” who had information that all the reality-based polling was wrong and skewed, and that Romney was going to coast to victory back in November.

  26. Neil Hudelson says:

    my opinion hasn’t changed either, i knew he was bad for the job and he still is.

    Thank you for that biting and insightful analysis.

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Isn’t this just a sympton of the developing dominance of the Democratic Party. As The Democrats dominate national politics and as demographic changes in the U.S. continue to benefit the Democrats, it will become impossible for any sitting Democratic President to have a negative rating.

    Also, given the massive media advantage that the Democrats have where the NYC-centric media, the future is nothing but rosy for the left in the U.S. Image a time in the near future when virtually no incumbent Democratic will face a serious opponent in any election.

  28. Sam Malone says:

    Why do you keep calling them scandals?
    Where is the evidence that Obama did anything wrong, either legally or morally?

  29. Kari Q says:

    It probably didn’t hurt his approval rating that Republicans couldn’t keep themselves from being outraged at a Marine holding an umbrella for the president in the midst of all that was going on these past could of weeks, instead of focusing on scandals that actually have the potential to be damaging. It bumped the real scandals aside for a while and made them look like just one more instance of GOP outrage over nothing. If they had ignored their “make a big deal out of something trivial” instinct just once, the potential impact of the scandals wouldn’t have been muted.

    Well played, Republicans.

  30. Sam Malone says:

    “…my opinion hasn’t changed either, i knew he was bad for the job and he still is…”

    bill thinks 9/11 was a terrific event…and invading and occupying Iraq was genius military strategy…that contracting the economy at 9% in a single quarter is just what the economy needed…and shedding 650,000 jobs a month was the best thing that could happen…and the dow at 7000 means the economy is strong…
    in other words…bill appears to be an idiot.

  31. Sam Malone says:

    “…in other words…bill appears to be an idiot…”

    I’m sorry…that was harsh, and unfair.
    My sincerest apologies to idiots everywhere.

  32. Sam Malone says:

    You want scandal?
    How about the folks who voted yesterday on a House Bill, declaring a presidential permit is not needed to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline extension, taking $56 Million from the Fossil Fuel Industry?
    That’s the definition of morally scandalous.
    Yet…crickets from OTB.
    Just like the Rogoff/Reinhart fictional austerity study.

  33. Tony W says:

    my opinion hasn’t changed either, i knew he was bad for the job and he still is.

    Nor will his opinion change with the addition of more facts. Such is the state of the American political right today.

    I hope daily for logic to rule the day, however the old saying that “You cannot reason someone out of a position he has not reasoned himself into” seems to apply.

  34. Steve V says:

    Looks like this is the whitey tape. We’ll see if anything ever comes out.

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @Steve V:

    Looks like this is the whitey tape. We’ll see if anything ever comes out.

    More right wing-conspiracists talking to each other.

    The bottom line is this: The House can impeach Obama any time they want to, and they do not need a reason, all they need are the votes and they have them right now. So why don’t they get it over with? And then we can let the Senate decline to convict. Maybe House Republicans are waiting to see if the 2014 midterms shifts the Senate to GOP control.

    I hope the Republican Party files for bankruptcy and relaoctes to North Korea.

  36. Steve V says:

    @al-Ameda:
    It’s like a bunch of conservatives sitting in a writer’s room spinning out ideas for episodes of 24. Doesn’t seem credible at all. But, we’ll see.