Are IRS, Benghazi flaps affecting Obama's standing with US public?

Republicans might have good reason to believe that President Obama will be affected more by the IRS scandal than by new revelations about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.

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    President Obama reacts after answering questions about the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, during a joint news conference with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (not pictured) in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday. Americans are not paying much attention to Benghazi news, according to a Pew survey.
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So far, new revelations about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service have had only modest effect on President Obama’s standing with the American public.

However, that could change as Republican-led investigations into the administration’s actions roll on. There’s reason to believe the IRS scandal, in particular, could hurt Democrats at the polls in the 2014 midterms, according to New York Times polling guru Nate Silver.

“The IRS story probably entails much more political downside for Democrats,” Mr. Silver writes on his FiveThirtyEight blog Tuesday.

As for Mr. Obama himself, right now his approval rating is about one point lower than it was a month ago, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls. Some 48.6 percent of respondents say they approve of the way Obama is doing his job, while 46.1 percent disapprove.

Many polls included in that figure were conducted after ABC News reported that, contrary to the administration’s previous statements, the White House and State Department heavily influenced edits to Central Intelligence Agency talking points on Benghazi.

In general, Americans are not paying much attention to Benghazi news, according to a separate Pew survey released Monday. Only 23 percent said they have followed Benghazi closely.

This does not necessarily mean they are shrugging off the whole Benghazi situation, however. Forty percent of respondents say the administration has generally been dishonest about providing information on the attack. Thirty-seven percent say the administration has been generally honest.

Interest in the Benghazi subject is split along partisan lines, with twice as many Republicans in the “closely following” camp as Democrats.

However, not much of the presidential approval/disapproval polling reflects the IRS story yet. That broke last Friday and has been growing in severity since.

Republicans might have good reason to believe that Obama will be more affected by news that the IRS used keywords such as “tea party” to search for groups to single out for special scrutiny – whether the action is directly tied to the White House or not.

Everybody understands the IRS, point out Washington Post political bloggers Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan Tuesday in “The Fix.” Domestic issues typically generate more interest than foreign ones. And Democratic lawmakers are lining up to denounce the practice almost as fast as Republican ones are.

Political scandals generally have much less long-term electoral effect than the press and Washington insiders suppose, Silver at the NYT notes.

But some have legs, and the IRS flap might be one of those.

The scandal is easy to describe, but hard to refute, Silver judges. It cuts against Obama’s claim that he is a president who is trying to reach out to the other political side. It’s also coming in a slow political news cycle.

The IRS story “has the potential to harm Democrats’ performance in next year’s midterm elections, partly by motivating a strong turnout from the Republican base,” writes Silver.


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