IRS deliberately harassed conservatives, majority say in poll

A new poll on the IRS scandal also finds that those who say the Obama administration is trying to conceal information outnumber those who say it's forthcoming. The tea party, meanwhile, is enjoying a 'bump.'

By , Correspondent

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    Bernie Brunner, of Springfield, Pa., holds a flag during a tea party rally protesting extra IRS scrutiny of their groups, Tuesday, in Philadelphia.
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The Internal Revenue Service’s slow-motion train wreck of a scandal just got a bit worse. That’s according to a new poll that offers fresh insight into how Americans perceive the IRS targeting scandal – and points to badly bungled damage control on the part of the agency and the administration.

According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday, 56 percent of respondents believe IRS scrutiny of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status was a deliberate move to target conservative groups. Only 31 percent said the targeting was an “administrative mistake.” 

What’s more, 45 percent of poll respondents said the administration is trying to cover up facts about the scandal, while 42 percent said it is honestly disclosing what it knows.

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For those who have watched this train wreck unfold, the findings are hardly surprising. After all, both the IRS and the Obama administration handled the mess with the grace of an elephant dancing backward in high heels.

There was the IRS’s initial decision to keep knowledge of the targeting practice, which began as early as 2010, under wraps for years.

There was its bizarre scheme to finally make the news public – not by informing Congress, issuing a press release, even leaking the news to a friendly media outlet. No, the agency planted a question in the audience of a little known law conference to get the news out.

And then there was the hastily organized press conference by a White House apparently blindsided by the news, President Obama’s unconvincing insistence that he learned of the news at the same time as the rest of the country, and the belated resignation of Acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller – six days after news of the scandal had emerged.

“When confronted with its worst scandal in decades,” as Politico put it, “the IRS broke virtually every public relations rule on the books.”

The surprise in all this, of course, is that Mr. Obama has emerged from the scandal relatively unscathed. According to the Washington Post poll, his approval rating is holding steady at 51 percent, with 44 percent disapproving – not bad for a commander in chief buffeted by political disaster from all directions.

The clear winner, if there is any, is the tea party. Sagging after its 2010 midterm election sweep, the movement got a shot in the arm from the IRS scandal, a recent poll reveals. According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday, 37 percent of respondents said they see the tea party in a favorable light. While that may not seem like much, it’s up 9 points from CNN’s March poll and just one point shy of the group’s all-time high in CNN polling , 38 percent, “reached twice in 2010 during the heyday of the movement,” according to the survey.

While it’s not clear if the popularity “bump” will last for the tea party, it’s more certain is that the IRS’s slump will linger.

The agency and its new commissioner, Daniel Werfel, face a massive public relations challenge, the most difficult aspect of which will be convincing Congress and Americans that the IRS can be a trusted government agency again.

Of course, if the Washington Post’s latest poll is any indication, it will be a long road ahead.

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