The Washington Post

GOP’s biggest obstacle on Benghazi/IRS/AP: Americans’ attention spans

To watch the news coverage this week, you'd think the Obama administration was on its last legs.

The good news for the Obama administration is that relatively few people are watching the news coverage.

According to a new Gallup poll, interest in the IRS scandal and the controversy over Benghazi remains below average when it comes to major news stories. While 60 percent of Americans are generally following a story at least "somewhat closely," just 53 percent are following the Benghazi news and 54 percent are following the IRS scandal.

The findings mirror a poll we looked at Wednesday from the Pew Research Center, which showed relatively few people following the Benghazi controversy closely.

Put simply: Americans' lack of attention span remains a -- if not the -- major hurdle in the GOP's effort to turn these issues into ones that will help them win elections.

While the quantity and proximity of the controversies has made this week stunningly bad for the White House, each of them individually remain somewhat in-the-weeds to casual followers of politics.

A sex scandal is cut and dry, as is an economic downturn or a failed response to a natural disaster. But the editing of talking points and the security of an overseas mission? The IRS providing extra scrutiny to the tax-exempt status of nonprofit groups? The Justice Department looking at journalists' phone records while investigating national security leaks? You can't even describe these controversies without using political/governmental gobbledygook.

These are all complicated topics with many ins and outs. Regular readers of this blog recognize the potency of each of these scandals/potential scandals if and when shoes start dropping, but the average American isn't too keen on foreign policy writ large -- much less the bureaucratic process of crafting talking points in response to a crisis.

Of the three controversies, the IRS scandal is the most easily explainable, which is why it seems like the most damaging one (that and it's the only one in which the guilty party has actually admitted wrongdoing). It's also why it has quickly gained as much attention as the Benghazi situation, which has been a story for months.

But as the IRS scandal and these other controversies progress, Republicans are going to need a string of further developments to keep people interested. And the simpler those developments are, the better for the GOP.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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