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Obama's ratings plummet after string of scandals

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2013-06-17

In the wake of a series of controversies, a new poll finds Barack Obama at his lowest job approval rating in more than a year and a half. FRANCE 24 interviewed a political analyst for insight into how worried the US president should be.

As he approaches the six-month point in his second term, US President Barack Obama has hit a serious snag in his job approval ratings, according to a CNN/ORC International survey published on Monday.

The poll finds Obama with a 45% approval rating, down eight points from last month and the president’s lowest number in more than a year and a half. 54% of Americans disapprove of the job the president is doing, up nine points from May’s poll.


- 49% think Obama is honest (down nine points from May)

- 48% of voters under 34 approve of Obama’s performance (down 17 points from May)

- 37% of “independents” approve of Obama’s performance (down 10 points from May)

- 52% think Obama is "strong" leader (down six points from May)

- 50% approve of Obama’s efforts on terrorism (down 13 points from May)

- 62% think the government threatens individual rights

It's the first time since November 2011 that a CNN poll shows a majority of Americans holding a negative view of the president, with a particularly precipitous 17-point drop among voters under 34 (who, along with African-Americans, Latinos, Jewish voters, and single women, have been Obama’s most loyal constituency).

The survey comes on the heel of a rash of controversies and dilemmas that have put the White House on the defensive in recent weeks: revelations regarding widespread US government surveillance through the NSA (National Security Agency); the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service (the government agency responsible for tax law enforcement); the Justice Department’s tracking of journalists’ phone records as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information; the administration’s handling of the deadly September 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi; and the decision to step up US involvement in Syria by offering small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebels.

FRANCE 24 interviewed Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, for further insight into just how worried (or not) the president should be.

F24: With all the issues and controversies plaguing Obama so far in his second term (IRS, NSA, Benghazi, Syria, and more), what do you think has been most damaging to Obama's image?

GS: In conjunction with one another, all of these controversies have been a little damaging, especially as they have mushroomed over the last couple of months. But in the long run, the IRS scandal [the Internal Revenue Service, a federal agency, acknowledged in May that beginning in 2010, employees inappropriately screened conservative groups, including those with “Tea Party” in their name, as they applied for non-profit status] remains the most potentially damaging problem for the president. While debates rage over security versus freedom and how involved we should get in another Middle East affair, pretty much everyone can agree that the IRS should not have been targeting specific groups due to their ideological positions. Further revelations regarding IRS targeting, especially any connecting the White House more directly to the matter, could hurt the president.

F24: To what extent can the latest drop in job approval be attributed to the typical polling ups and downs? Or do you think the findings are more significant than that?

GS: Many second-term presidents have had scandals and controversies to deal with that have hurt their public image. Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had personal problems, Bush had the realisation that “Mission Accomplished” was not the case in Iraq. So Obama is just the latest to have trouble. But it’s too soon to know if this is just a valley for the president or a more permanent problem for him. Further revelations about the IRS, a difficult-to-predict situation in Syria, and potential GOP overreach in attacking the president could harm or help the president, depending on how these different situations pan out.

F24: Last month's CNN poll showed that 79% of Americans find Obama “likeable” (that question wasn’t included in the June survey). Does that level of personal popularity immunise Obama against total poll collapse?

GS: The president’s personal popularity certainly can’t hurt him, but the deeply entrenched partisan divisions in today’s politics are probably more likely to keep Obama from experiencing a total poll collapse. A large percentage of the people who voted for Obama simply won’t abandon him.

F24: Do any of the problems Obama has dealt with in the past few months have the potential to harm Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections?

GS: The GOP will certainly attempt to rouse the Republican base by highlighting the administration’s various scandals and controversies. In a low-turnout midterm atmosphere, higher interest and energy among the Republican faithful could help Republicans increase their edge in the House and possibly take back the US Senate. But at the moment, we appear to be in a relatively neutral atmosphere, with polls showing neither side with a major advantage in generic congressional balloting. Unless these controversies and scandals worsen and/or grow in number, it’s hard to see a 2010-style wave happening [Republicans took back the House of Representatives and made advances in the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections]. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of time between now and November 2014 so we’ll just have to see.

Date created : 2013-06-17

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