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May 30, 2013 9:55 AM Mixed Signals—But Public Still Doesn’t Care About Benghazi

By Ed Kilgore

Trying to figure out if the American public—particularly those outside the Republican Party faithful—are concerned about the “scandals” involving the Obama administration that have been in the news? Well, we have two new data points today, and they send some pretty mixed signals.

On the one hand, there’s a new Quinnipiac Poll out showing the president’s approval rating deteriorating a bit, and the public split as to whether the administration was responsible for the IRS “scandal.” On the other hand, Gallup’s latest tracking poll shows the president’s job approval ratings not only holding up but improving, and now standing at 51% positive and 43% negative.

The most startling finding from the Q-poll is that 76% of respondents—including 63% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans—favor the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS allegations. This may simply reflect the fact that many people don’t know who to trust as the “scandal” drags on, and/or that partisans assume the “other side” has too much control over the investigations. But these are some formidable numbers for a course of action that most liberal elites—and a growing number of conservative elites—deplore as threatening a nightmarish return to the 1990s at their worst.

But while the IRS matter is getting some traction (for the rather obvious reason that most Americans can imagine themselves as being in the IRS’s crosshairs, and they don’t like how that makes them feel), the many months and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of attention paid to Benghazi! still hasn’t lifted this “scandal” over the threshold of broad public concern even with the help of an atmosphere where confidence in the administration’s honestly has eroded. In the Q-Poll’s key question as to whether respondents thought the Benghazi! investigations in Congress have been legitimate or a matter of “playing politics,” the latter proposition leads 43-32 (43-38 among self-identified independents). Asked directly to compare the importance of the IRS, Benghazi or AP “stories,” only a quarter of respondents chose Benghazi!

Perhaps most importantly in the long run, particularly if the economic improvements continue: the Q-Poll shows nearly three-fourths of Americans believe that the economy and unemployment are a bigger deal than all these “scandals” put together. So the congressional investigators are walking on thin ice unless they come up with something tangible that links the White House to the scandals. And I’d guess that ice will melt long before the 2014 midterm elections.

UPDATE: Jonathan Bernstein argues that poll findings on scandals have too much “noise” to matter, except for approval rating numbers showing the net affect.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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