I mentioned last week that President Obama’s poll numbers would almost certainly drop in the face of intense criticism. Even if there are no meaningful allegations of wrongdoing involving the White House, when the public hears the words “president” and “scandal” over and over again, it’s likely to take a toll.
Or perhaps not. CNN released a poll yesterday showing Obama’s approval rating going up, not down, reaching 53%. What’s more, Gallup daily tracking put the president’s standing at 47% a week ago, then reaching 51% on Saturday, before inching to 50% yesterday.
How is this possible given the media firestorm and the constant talk of a “White House in crisis”? It may have something to do with the fact that there are partisan differences in how the news is being perceived.
I put together this chart, for example, showing the partisan breakdown responding to this question in the CNN poll: Do you think that what Barack Obama has said in public about [the IRS controversy] has been completely true, mostly true, mostly false, or completely false?” I then combined “true” and “mostly true,” followed by “false” and “completely false.”
Democrats and independents believe the president’s remarks have been truthful; Republicans do not. This isn’t surprising, of course, but it does help explain the larger political dynamic – those who were already inclined to support Obama continue to do so; those inclined to believe the worst about the president continue to do that, too. Similar results were found in response to Benghazi-related questions.
As Greg Sargent put it, “In the case of the IRS and Benghazi stories, the lurid and nefarious view of Obama’s involvement in them being peddled by the right is held only by Republicans – big majorities of them – while most moderates and independents, i.e. the middle of the country, believe the White House’s arguments.”
It probably doesn’t hurt that news consumers who take a closer look at the available facts find that the president find that the IRS and Benghazi stories don’t point to presidential wrongdoing, either.
I should mention a couple of other angles to keep an eye on. First, the sustained poll support may not last – if there are weeks or months of “scandal” speculation and Nixon comparisons, Obama’s standing may yet deteriorate. Many may already be tired of the controversies, but with hearings and investigations on the way, scandal mania will probably dominate the political world’s attention for quite a while.
Second, while all of this is at least somewhat interesting, I hope talk of polls and political implications does not drown out the more significant takeaway from recent developments: we’re getting a good look at real policy problems, not political scandals, and the more the political world focuses on solutions, the better.
That means putting several ideas on the front burner: a media shield law, improved embassy security, IRS reforms, a renewed look at the ambiguities surrounding tax law as it relates to political non-profit groups, etc.