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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls -- For The Week Ending May 18, 2013

Another day, another controversy? It must have seemed that way lately to the Obama administration, but will it matter? Voters are sending mixed signals so far. 

The strongest voter reaction can be found in response to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups. Most voters believe the targeting was politically motivated and 57% think most of those involved should be fired or jailed. Fifty-five percent (55%) think it is at least somewhat likely that President Obama or his top aides were aware of the IRS’ actions.

However, the recent high-profile congressional hearings on events surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi have had no impact on public opinion. Before the hearings, 32% thought the administration had done a good job explaining what happened in Libya last fall. After the hearings, that number was 31%. Before the hearings, 78% thought it was important to learn what happened. After, that figure was 82%.

Voters are closely divided over whether the Justice Department’s secret seizure of telephone records from the Associated Press was an effort to protect national security or an attempt to bully the media. A narrow plurality believes the press already has too much freedom on national security issues.

In his latest weekly newspaper column, Scott Rasmussen says the Justice Department scandal is the most “nuanced” of the president’s current problems. “While the public is not up in arms over this issue, journalists are,” Scott explains. “So there is likely to be more aggressive reporting on some of the other challenges facing the White House.” 

While the short-term implications are impossible to predict, Scott adds that the events of the past few days “will make the president's biggest uphill battle impossible to achieve - trying to build faith in the federal government.”

On this weekend’s episode of What America Thinks, Scott looks at public reaction to the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, Justice's surveillance of reporters and the Benghazi hearings. Sean Trende from RealClearPolitics discusses the politics of immigration reform, how the growing scandals will affect it and Election 2014. Finally, former Obama advisor Rick C. Wade and Kevin McKechnie, director of the American Banking Association's Health Savings Accounts Council, provide their take on the president’s health care law as it nears full implementation

What America Thinks airs on 64 TV stations nationwide. Find a station near you.

Despite the recent bad news, 49% of voters still consider the president a good or excellent leader, unchanged from March but down from a high of 55% in January. This is more in line with views of Obama prior to Election Day.

The leadership numbers also parallel Obama’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Forty-six percent (46%) still give the president good or excellent marks when it comes to his handling of national security issues. But 39% now give him poor marks in this area, a six-point increase from a week ago. When it comes to the economy, 39% of voters think the president is doing a good or excellent job.

Obama draws his lowest ratings to date for his handling of issues related to deficit reduction and economic fairness. Thirty-four percent (34%) believe the president is doing a good or excellent job dealing with deficit reduction. Just 35% think the president say the same of his handling of issues related to economic fairness.

The president’s health care law, scheduled for full implementation by next year, may be another big cloud on the horizon. Voters now give the U.S. health care system its lowest marks in recent years and are increasingly pessimistic about the short-term future of health care in this country. Fifty-six percent (56%) believe the health care system is likely to get worse over the next couple of years. That figure has been inching up from 50% last November.

Voters still agree with the president on the need for a ban on semi-automatic and so-called assault-type weapons, but 64% think it would be bad for America if government officials such as police and military personnel were the only ones allowed to have guns.

Most voters believe either state (36%) or local governments (17%) should set laws on gun ownership. Just 34% believe the feds should have that responsibility. 

While Congress and the president try to hammer out a plan to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants in this country, we thought it was a good time to ask about legal immigration. Most Americans think the United States should welcome legal immigrants from around the world but believe those from countries with terrorist ties should be eyed more closely. They also think the United States should give preference to immigrants who are good for the economy.

If the border is truly secured as party of comprehensive immigration reform, however, 38% believe the government should decrease the level of legal immigration, too.

But is anybody listening? Just eight percent (8%) of voters believe the average member of Congress listens to the voters he or she represents more than congressional party leaders. An overwhelming majority (80%) believes the average congressman listens to party leaders more. No wonder that just 12% believe members of Congress almost always get reelected because they do a good job representing their constituents.

Half of U.S. voters continue to favor an immediate withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, as fewer than ever think the United States can really win there. Only 25% believe it is still possible for the United States to win the nearly 12-year-long war in Afghanistan, down dramatically from the 51% who felt that way in early December 2009.

Consumer confidence remains just below the highest levels in recent years.

Democrats have a two-point lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other surveys last week:

-- Thirty percent (30%) of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.

-- Voters are now evenly divided when asked if elections in the United States are fair today, and a solid majority continues to believe that the U.S. government does not have the consent of the governed. But the Political Class strongly disagrees.

-- Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans believe English should be the official language of the United States, and 77% don’t believe requiring people to speak English is a form of racism or bigotry.

-- The horrific factory collapse in Bangladesh more than two weeks ago that left more than 1,100 people dead has put the human toll of producing cheap clothing and other products back in the minds of many. While fewer than half of Americans make an effort to only buy clothes made domestically, they support requirements for apparel companies to report where their clothes are made and details about working conditions in those countries.

-- Half of Americans believe major college sports programs are bad for higher education and break the rules on a regular basis when recruiting.

-- Seventy-three percent (73%) believe football coaches at major colleges are paid too much, and 57% favor a proposal that would prevent them from being paid more than professors are.

-- A ruling is expected next month on a suit filed by a former college basketball star claiming that the NCAA should not profit from using the names and images of athletes without paying them, and 50% of Americans agree. 

-- Working adults seem to enjoy a life away from the job even when they're out with their co-workers. Forty-nine percent (49%) of Employed Adults rarely or never get together with co-workers for social events, while another 36% say they do so only occasionally.

-- Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans planned to visit their mothers last Sunday for Mother’s Day.

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Wall Street Journal profile called Scott Rasmussen "America's Insurgent Pollster." The Washington Post described him as "a driving force in American politics."  If you'd like Scott to speak at your conference or event, contact Premiere Speakers Bureau.

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