Benghazi? Most Americans still aren’t paying attention.

May 15, 2013

We've written on why Republicans would be well served, politically speaking to focus the majority of their time looking into the wrongdoings by the IRS rather than continuing to spend gobs of time in sorting out the who knew what when timeline of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last fall.

New numbers from Pew Research Center validate that argument, providing evidence that even when Benghazi is on the front burner in official Washington it doesn't move the needle with the general public.

Image courtesy of Pew
Image courtesy of Pew

Despite the fact that Pew was in the field in the immediate aftermath of congressional hearings last week that featured several whistleblowers on Benghazi,  just 44 percent of Americans said they were following the story "very" (23 percent) or "fairly" (21 percent) closely -- a number consistent with those paying close attention throughout 2013 so far.  That consistency suggests that in or out of the news, there is a certain percentage of the public who will pay attention to Benghazi -- and the rest simply won't.

The numbers are also strongly influenced by partisan leanings.  More than one in three Republicans (36 percent) are following the Benghazi story "very" closely while just 18 percent of Democrats said they were doing the same.  One in five independents (21 percent) told Pew they were watching the Benghazi story "very" closely.

The political reality is that Benghazi remains an issue that animates a portion of the Republican base -- and not much of anyone else. Contrast that with the ubiquity of the IRS as an institution (and a much maligned one at that) and it's pretty clear where Republicans should spend the majority of their time in the coming weeks.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza | May 15, 2013