WaPo Poll: Trouble for Obama
President Barack Obama's poll ratings remain steady despite swirling controversies, according to a new Washington Post poll. The economy is faring better, which is serving as a counterweight to the IRS and Benghazi scandals, thereby helping the president.
But the polling numbers should concern the White House when respondents directly addressed the IRS and Benghazi scandals. Even Nixon's numbers didn't tank immediately as the Watergate scandal unfolded (and Nixon had a sickly economy dragging him down at the time, too).
As anyone who understands polling appreciates, a poll is merely a snapshot, a moment in time. Trends are what count -- and events as they unfold. Public perceptions typically lag behind events. The Post poll was in the field in early May and sampled adults, with registered voters as a subset (better to have screened for likely voters; the results may have been even more troublesome for the president). The sampling error was plus or minus 3.5%.
There are certainly more revelations to come from Benghazi and the IRS flaps. Congressional Republicans will continue to deep drill and sleuth. The fair and balanced media (Fox News, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.) won't quit. Leaks will happen. Bureaucrats, fearful of being implicated in and penalized for illegalities or, simply, deceptions -- on their parts and others -- will cut deals in exchange for testimonies. Whistleblowers will step out of the shadows.
Here are top line numbers from the Washington Post poll that should worry Mr. Obama and his team:
Q: Changing topics, in general do you think the federal government is doing more to (protect) the rights of average Americans or more to (threaten) the rights of average Americans?
54% - threaten. 38% - protect.
The Washington Post didn't ask "threaten" respondents if they connect their fears to the president. With more to come from the IRS scandal -- and with links to the White House probable -- the majority feeling threatened by government will grow.
Q: Republicans in Congress have criticized the way the Obama administration handled the attack in Benghazi, Libya. Do you think Republicans in Congress are (raising legitimate concerns), or are they (just political posturing)?
44% - legitimate. 45% - posturing.
Keep in mind that the poll is of adults. Such polling tends to skew for Democrats and their worldviews. Respondents are divided with a margin of error that could lean in favor of "legitimate."
Q: Do you think the Obama administration (is honestly disclosing what it knows about what occurred in Benghazi) or (is trying to cover up the facts)?
55% - try to cover up. 33% - honestly disclosing.
Ouch! What damages the president here will be new information coming to light and linkage establishing that the president had a hand in decisions made that were then lied about. If so, Mr. Obama's approval/trust ratings will take a nasty hit.
Q: As you may know it's been disclosed that the IRS singled out some conservative political groups for extra questions about their tax status. Do you think it was appropriate or inappropriate for the IRS to do this?
74% - inappropriate. 20% - appropriate.
51% thought the IRS action was illegal. 44% said it was inappropriate but not illegal.
The IRS scandal is, at bottom, a White House/Democrat effort to intimidate conservative groups, to put a chill on fundraising and poltical activity... starting in earnest back in 2010 (midterm elections -- coincidence?). IRS abuse resonates with most Americans. If congressional investigators find definitive trails from the IRS back to the White House, the president pays a big price.
Q: Do you think this extra focus on conservative political groups by the IRS was (a deliberate effort to harass these groups) or (an administrative mistake that was not intended to treat these groups unfairly)?
56% - harass. 31% - administrative mistake.
Again, eventual linkage between the White House and the IRS spells a world of hurt for Mr. Obama.
Q: In dealing with this situation with the IRS, do you think the Obama administration (is honestly disclosing what it knows about what occurred) or (is trying to cover up the facts)?
45% - trying to cover up. 42% - honestly disclosing.
As the IRS story ripens, a cover-up won't be perceived as just politically expedient. It will more and more be seen as dishonest, unethical, and dangerous. After all, if the White House used the IRS to go after conservative groups, it can use it to go after other groups and people. Americans will connect those dots.
The Washington Post polling results indicate that Democrats could be heading for a tough time in next year's midterm elections. The IRS and Benghazi scandals aren't going away anytime soon. The bad news that is sure to come in the weeks and months ahead will only energize conservatives and depress the Democrats' voter base.
Barack Obama likely doesn't face impeachment, but a crippled presidency. The latter can be much worse than the former for Democrats.