Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for Public Opinion to Turn Against Obama

The president has a base of loyalists that won't quit and, at least for now, there's no evidence he was involved in any scandals.


Another day, another poll showing that President Obama's job-approval rating is not collapsing under the weight of scandals and controversies. Why is he holding steady? Will it last? And will Republicans take any cues from his staying power?

Given the noise level on Capitol Hill, cable TV, and social media, Obama's 50 percent-plus showings in recent polls from CNN, Pew, and ABC/Washington Post seem somewhat surprising. But two veteran political pollsters, one from each party, say that Obama can expect to maintain his standing as long as there's no evidence that he was involved in the two big furors of the moment: the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and the Justice Department seizing Associated Press phone records as part of a leak investigation.

Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Stan Greenberg agree that Obama is in a relatively strong position short of "a real set of facts that implicates the president," as Greenberg put it. The reasons include Obama's steadfast coalition of blacks, Latinos, and young people, and a Washington tradition of leaving the president in the dark.

The president's core base has kept his approval rating in the mid-40s or higher through the five years of his presidency, McInturff says, and won't desert him. He calls that unusual, and you only have to look back one administration to see why. George W. Bush had job-approval ratings in the 20s and 30s for most of his second term. Obama's job approval could drop over time due to the controversies, McInturff says, "but will they restructure his job approval? Not with the information we have today."

The IRS mess is edging ever closer to Obama, with the news that his White House counsel and other top administration officials knew about an inspector general investigation into IRS targeting nearly a month ago. But White House spokesman Jay Carney says Obama was not told. "There was nothing the president could or should do" until the official findings were released, he said, and Obama moved fast once that happened last week.

That seems preposterous to some, and has at the least made Obama seem disengaged, but McInturff calls it a plausible scenario. "People don't want to tell the president bad news," he says. "If things get messy, the furthest thing from your mind is, 'Oh, I think the president needs to know about this.' " He says he expects Americans to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, as they have to past presidents. "People say he can't know everything. They don't expect him to. Nobody could."

Of course, that all could change with new information. With Congress in investigative mode on the IRS, the AP incident, and last year's fatal attacks on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, there remains the prospect of more shoes dropping. In the meantime, both parties are claiming political advantage. The trio of controversies is giving the GOP "enormous fuel" in its drive to recruit House and Senate candidates for 2014, McInturff says.

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Jill Lawrence is a national correspondent at National Journal. She was previously a columnist at Politics Daily, national political correspondent at USA Today and national political writer at the Associated Press.

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