POLL: White House Scandals, Embarrassments Linger on Voters’ Minds

December 31, 2013
A series of White House scandals and embarrassing missteps remain on the minds of voters

A series of White House scandals and embarrassing missteps remain on the minds of voters

DENVER – The botched rollout of Obamacare isn’t the only thing feeding public perceptions of a White House defined by incompetence and mismanagement.  As the New Year approaches, most Americans continue to view many of the Obama administration’s highest-profile blunders as scandalous and embarrassing, according to a new Rasmussen survey.

A majority of those polled, 50 percent, said they viewed the Obama Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) improper targeting of conservative groups as “a serious scandal” while another 24 percent characterized it as “embarrassing.”  Just 20 percent said it was “not a big deal.”

The powerful tax agency’s decision to single out conservative groups for additional scrutiny and delay their applications – in some cases for years – triggered public outrage earlier this year.

Administration officials initially assigned blame for the politically motivated targeting to two “rogue employees” in the IRS’ Cincinnati, Ohio office.  However, subsequent inquiries revealed that the effort was much more widespread and undertaken with the knowledge of the IRS’ Director of Exempt Organizations division, Lois Lerner.

Lerner ultimately refused to cooperate with Congressional investigators, and was placed on administrative leave, where she continued collecting her $177,000 salary for several months before eventually retiring in September.

The IRS wasn’t the only Obama administration agency that drew the ire of survey respondents.

The Obama Justice Department’s (DOJ) clandestine subpoena of reporters’ phone records were also regarded as “a serious scandal” by 51 percent of those polled, while another 28 percent said it was “embarrassing.”  Just 13 percent said that the unprecedented DOJ investigation of reporters was “not a big deal.”

The Washington Post described the administration’s acquisition of the personal phone records of Associated Press (AP) journalists and an editor earlier this year as “a sweeping and unusual move.”

The CEO of the Associated Press went a step further, calling the government’s surveillance of journalists “a massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice into … newsgathering activities,” in a letter to Mr. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder.

The murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens by Islamic extremists in Benghazi, Libya – and the Obama administration’s shifting explanations about causes of and response to the terrorist attack – also elicited varying views from survey respondents.

A plurality of those polled, 49 percent, characterized White House explanations about Stevens’ murder as “a serious scandal,” while another 29 percent described them as “embarrassing.”  Another 14 percent characterized the situation as “not a big deal.”

The White House initially characterized the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi as a “spontaneous response” to an obscure YouTube video, sending then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on several television programs to reinforce those White House talking points.

But the testimony of Benghazi’s former Deputy Chief of Mission, Gregory Hicks, before a House panel contradicted those talking points.

Hicks called the video a “non-event in Libya,” and said that the real perpetrators of the planned assault were members of Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda affiliated group.

Hicks added that after watching Rice’s initial interviews, “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. I was embarrassed.”

Administration quickly pivoted from blaming the attack on the video to characterizing Congressional investigations of the attack as a “phony scandal” and “false controversy.”  Ms. Rice was subsequently promoted.

The agency Rice was tapped by President Obama to lead, the National Security Agency (NSA), also made the list of scandals thanks high-profile disclosures by NSA leaker Edward Snowden about a wide-ranging government programs designed to collect data on U.S. citizens.

Revelations that the Obama National Security Agency (NSA) was engaging in mass-surveillance of Americans’ cell phone and email data by the National Security Administration (NSA) was also regarded as “a serious scandal” by 45 percent of respondents, and “embarrassing” by another 35 percent.  Just 16 percent of those polled said the wide-scale domestic spying program was “not a big deal.”

A plurality of those polled, 43 percent, said that they believed the NSA story would continue to be a “major controversy” a year from now.  Another 21 percent said the same of the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi, and 12 percent said the politically motivated IRS targeting of conservative groups would still be in the news.

“More voters than ever think the National Security Agency’s secret monitoring of Americans’ phone calls and e-mail messages will be the controversy that outlasts the others dogging the Obama administration,” read a Rasmussen analysis of the poll results.

The Rasmussen Reports national survey polled 1,000 likely voters December 22, 2013 and has a margin of error of + / 3 percent.

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