The IRS scandal has brought the tea party back into the spotlight, but it has done little to change the public’s impressions of the political movement. In the poll, 40 percent of all Americans say they support the tea party movement and 43 percent oppose it, numbers stable back to last year. A record high of 17 percent express no opinion on the question. About 73 percent of conservative Republicans say they support the movement, but that’s the lowest percentage to say so in polls going back more than two years.
The Benghazi episode
Obama has expressed outrage over the IRS action, which has led to the resignation of acting director Steven Miller. But on Benghazi, Obama and others in the White House have turned their fire on Republicans leading the investigation of events that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi last Sept. 11.
Obama has called the hearings a partisan sideshow, and White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer called the GOP-led efforts “partisan fishing expeditions” during a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows. Americans are evenly split on the motivations of Republicans: 44 percent say they are raising legitimate concerns, while 45 percent see only political posturing. But those numbers mask a wide partisan gulf, with 74 percent of Republicans seeing the GOP-led investigation as legitimate and 71 percent of Democrats sensing political opportunism.
Most Americans, 55 percent, say they think that the Obama administration is trying to cover up facts about the Benghazi attack; 33 percent say the administration is honestly disclosing what it knows. Among Republicans, the sense of a coverup jumps to 81 percent. About 60 percent of independents also see deception in the matter, as do 29 percent of Democrats.
Republicans looking into the Benghazi episode have focused on the role played by former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who left office with sky-high ratings. In the poll, 62 percent of all respondents say they approve of the way she handled her job as secretary of state; just 28 percent disapprove. Clinton’s approval rating has dipped six points since December, but it remains in clearly positive territory. Those who see coverup in the administration’s handling of the Benghazi controversy split down the middle in rating Clinton’s performance at the State Department.
The Justice Department’s leak investigation and the secret collection of AP telephone records put renewed focus on the balance between national security and government intrusion on press freedoms.
Overall, a big majority of Americans, 69 percent, say they are at least somewhat concerned that the government — in trying to protect classified information — will improperly intrude on freedom of the press. Still, a slim majority, 52 percent, says it sees the Justice Department’s seizure of the AP records as justified. Democrats, Republicans and independents are in general agreement when it comes to the AP matter and broader concerns about the freedom of the press.
It is not clear whether the multiple controversies will affect congressional action on other issues, but the poll found an increase in public pessimism about whether Obama and Republican lawmakers will work together on important issues. By 2 to 1, 64 percent to 32 percent, Americans are sour on the possibilities for bipartisan action, with the number of hopeful dropping 14 points since the post-election period. Such hopefulness has dropped 18 points among Democrats, 15 among independents and 10 among Republicans.
The poll was conducted May 16 to 19 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Cohen is polling director for Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight pollsters Peyton M. Craighill, Scott Clement and Kimberly Hines contributed to this report.
Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.