Post-ABC poll: public views of Petraeus take negative turn

November 21, 2012

In the wake of his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, nearly a third of all Americans now hold unfavorable views of former general David Petraeus, a once wildly popular public figure, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Still, positive views of the general outweigh negative ones (45 to 32 percent), and there is a more unfavorable impression of the FBI and the Obama administration for their handling of the matter than there is for Petraeus himself.

Even after the highly publicized affair, sizable numbers of Americans express no opinion about Petraeus and about the way the FBI and the administration have dealt with it. Of course, details of the case continue to emerge, and a new Pew Research Center poll found just 22 percent of adults following the incident “very closely.”

In July 2010, when Petraeus was tapped to lead a big expansion of American military operations in Afghanistan, he had few detractors. Just 9 percent of Americans held unfavorable views at the time, according to Gallup; 56 percent expressed favorable impressions.  

Petraeus’s resignation was prompted by an extramarital affair he had with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Some 51 percent of men now hold favorable views of the former general; 30 percent hold unfavorable ones. The split is far more even among women: 39 percent express favorable views, 34 percent unfavorable ones. Women are more apt than men to say they have “no opinion” about Petraeus.

However, the gender gap may have little to do with the circumstances of his resignation. In the July 2010 Gallup poll, men were also far more likely than women to say they viewed the then-commander positively.

In the current data, the male vs. female gap is evident across party lines, but is particularly pronounced among Republicans. Sixty percent of GOP men have favorable views of Petraeus, compared with 45 percent of Republican women.

Gender aside, Petraeus continues to get more positive than negative reviews among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. But among all three groups, about one in three say they have unfavorable impressions.

Democrats and Republicans are more clearly at odds with one another when it comes to assessing the role of the FBI and, even more so, the administration. Fully 72 percent of Democrats hold favorable views of the way Obama’s team have dealt with the situation; 76 percent of Republicans express unfavorable opinions.

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Sean Sullivan · November 20, 2012