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.
News on any of these fronts may shift how and whether Americans assess political culpability. With congressional hearings continuing, the administration faces a potentially lengthy testing period. So, too, does Congress.
The IRS scandal
One underlying sentiment revealed in the poll may have broad implications: People are now far more apt to see the federal government as threatening, rather than protecting, the rights of average Americans.
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.