The good news – and the bad news – for Obama in scandal-tinged polls

President Obama's approval rating has not slipped in public opinion polls despite a trio of political scandals. But most Americans don't think much of the way the administration has handled the issues, and they believe further investigation is justified.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
President Obama speaks in Baltimore on Friday. New polls give Mr. Obama mixed reviews on job performance, including White House handling of current scandals.

Given the battering President Obama took this past week on a trio of political scandals, any public opinion survey results that aren’t dreadful probably are viewed with some relief at the White House.

That may be the clearest message from a CNN/ORC poll released Sunday morning.

According to the survey, which was conducted Friday and Saturday, 53 percent of Americans say they approve of the job the president is doing, with 45 percent saying they disapprove, CNN reports. That’s actually a tick better than the 51 percent approval rating Obama had in early April – but not enough to break out the sparkling cider.

"That two-point difference is well within the poll's sampling error, so it is a mistake to characterize it as a gain for the president," says CNN polling director Keating Holland. "Nonetheless, an approval rating that has not dropped and remains over 50 percent will probably be taken as good news by Democrats after the events of the last week."

For those of you blissfully unaware, those events are the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack on the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last September (where US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed); the IRS badgering of tea party and other conservative organizations; and the Justice Department snooping into the telephone records of Associated Press journalists as part of a crackdown on national security leaks.

(We would add to that trio a fourth item reported in recent days: losing track of a couple of terrorists in the federal witness protection program.)

Gallup’s latest numbers track closely with CNN’s – a slight improvement for Obama to 51-to-42 approve/disapprove.

For now, as the headline on an AP story puts it, “Obama agenda seems to be weathering controversies.”

“Despite Democratic fears, predictions of the demise of President Barack Obama's agenda appear exaggerated after a week of cascading controversies, political triage by the administration and party leaders in Congress and lack of evidence to date of wrongdoing close to the Oval Office,” writes AP special correspondent David Espo.

That could change, of course, given the possibility of new revelations, Republican intransigence, or both. GOP leaders certainly spun it in that direction on the TV news shows Sunday.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the IRS scandal – singling out tea party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny of their tax status – was part of a broader "culture of intimidation" within the Obama administration.

To what extent are Americans paying attention to all of this?

“Slim majorities of Americans are very or somewhat closely following the situations involving the Internal Revenue Service (54 percent) and the congressional hearings on the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its aftermath (53 percent) … well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years,” writes Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief.

CNN’s numbers here seem more troubling for the White House.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed say IRS targeting of conservative groups was unacceptable; a majority (52 percent) say the Justice Department's actions regarding the AP phone records were unacceptable; 59 percent say the US government could have prevented the attack in Benghazi; and a large minority (44 percent) say statements made by the Obama administration soon after the attack “were an attempt to intentionally mislead the public.”

At this point, according to CNN, most Americans do not think Republicans have overplayed their hand on either the Benghazi or IRS controversies. Gallup finds that 74 percent on the IRS and 69 percent on Benghazi find these situations “serious enough to warrant continuing investigation.”

"More Republicans than Democrats or Independents say these three issues are very important to the nation, but even among Democrats, nearly half say the matters are very serious," says CNN polling director Keating Holland.

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