May 22, 2013
President Obama's approval rating in several recently released polls suggests that the three controversies his administration is navigating have not begun to hurt him.
A CNN/ORC poll showed that 53 percent of Americans approve of the job he's doing. That is about where he stood in April, when the same poll found he had a 51 percent approval rating. A Gallup poll showed 49 percent approved of the job he's doing, and a Washington Post/ABC survey had his approval rating at 51 percent, nearly the same as his 50 percent rating in April.
Three of Obama's recent predecessors also faced second-term scandals. Watergate consumed the Nixon administration in 1973 and 1974, Iran-Contra impacted Ronald Reagan in 1986 and 1987 and the Lewinsky affair (and ensuing perjury) embarrassed Bill Clinton in 1998. In each of those instances, there was evidence that the White House had some direct involvement in the malfeasance in question. So far, the investigations into the IRS's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, the Benghazi attacks and the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records have not implicated the president directly.
But most Americans say they think the trio of controversies is important, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. So, if there is a backlash for the president in the polls, when might it happen?
The break-in at the Watergate occurred in June 1972, five months before Nixon rode to a landslide reelection, but the scandal did not damage his approval ratings until after two aides were convicted of conspiracy in January 1973. Between January and August, his approval rating dropped from 67 percent to 31 percent after the resignation of his top staffers, attorney general and deputy attorney general. Over that time, his approval rating dropped by an average of 3 points a month, according to Gallup. Nixon's approval rating never recovered, culminating in his resignation on Aug. 9, 1974, when he left office with an approval rating of just 24 percent.
Ronald Reagan's approval rating dipped from 63 percent in October of 1986 to 47 percent in December 1986, a month after Reagan organized the special commission to investigate whether arms were traded for hostages as part of the Iran-Contra affair. His ratings rebounded slightly as Vice President George H.W. Bush began campaigning for the presidency in the summer of 1988, reaching 53 percent, according to Gallup.
The Drudge Report and Newsweek reported on Bill Clinton's affair in January 1998. Clinton's job approval actually jumped to 69 percent in a Jan. 30 Gallup survey, up from 59 percent in a poll from earlier in the month. Clinton's approval rating never dropped below 60 percent throughout 1998, and jumped 10 points from 63 percent to 73 percent in December, the highest approval of his presidency.
But while Clinton's job approval remained high throughout 1998, his personal favorability took a dive in the wake of the scandal. Gallup found his favorability dropped by five points in August, after he gave a nationally televised speech admitting he had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton's favorability dropped from 60 percent a week before the speech to 55 percent a week after the address. A month later, it had fallen to 51 percent but later rebounded.
May 22, 2013