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The Political Ground Is Shifting Under the President

A Commentary By Scott Rasmussen

Friday, May 24, 2013

Despite a tough couple of weeks, President Obama's job approval ratings are holding up fairly well. As I write this, 47 percent of voters nationwide offer their approval. That's little changed from attitudes of late and essentially the same as the president enjoyed during most of his first term in office.

But if you dig just a bit beneath the surface, it becomes clear that the controversies dogging the White House have had an impact. So far, there are three major issues -- the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservatives, the Justice Department's secret media probe and the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi last Sept. 11.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaking on CNN, dismissed "the premise, the idea that these were scandals." However, voters see it differently. Just over half believe each of the three qualifies as a scandal. Only one out of eight sees them as no big deal.

Voters also reject the notion that the IRS targeting was the work of some low-level rogue employees. Just 20 percent believe that to be the case. A slightly larger number (26 percent) thinks the decision came from IRS headquarters. But 39 percent believe the decision to target conservative groups was made by someone who works at the White House.

This isn't just a case of people believing politicians always behave this way. Only 19 percent think the IRS usually targets political opponents of the president.

Skepticism is so high that few are convinced the IRS acted alone. Sixty percent believe that other federal agencies also were used to target the tea party and other conservative groups. Ominously for Democrats, two out of three unaffiliated voters share that view.

So, why hasn't it hurt the president's overall job approval? Some believe it has. The theory is that with a recovering economy, his ratings should be higher. Another possibility is that the president's base may have doubts, but they are still sticking by their man.

It also may be that the doubts are popping up in other ways. For example, at Rasmussen Reports we regularly ask voters which party they trust to deal with a range of issues including government ethics and corruption. Before the scandals broke, Democrats had an 8-point advantage on this particular issue. But there has been a 10-point swing, and the GOP now has a 2-point edge.

Among unaffiliated voters, Republicans enjoy a 23-point advantage on the ethics front. Before the controversies, it was a toss-up.

The last week has seen serious slippage in the president's numbers when it comes to national security. From the moment Obama took office, he has always received better ratings on national security matters than he did on the economy. However, just 39 percent of voters now give him good or excellent marks in this area. That's down 7 points from a week ago and the lowest ratings he's had on national security since Osama bin Laden was killed two years ago.

There is obviously no way of knowing where things will lead. At this point, however, it's fair to say that the controversies have had an impact, and the political environment is shifting against the president.

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