Special IRS Prosecutor Favored as Obama Support Drops

Three-quarters of U.S. voters want a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups. In a recent poll of registered voters, most favored a special prosecutor by 76 percent to 17 percent. Those backing such a move included 63 percent of Democrats.

By Jonathan D. Salant
May 30, 2013 3:00 AM MT

Three-quarters of U.S. voters want a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups, according to a poll that showed a drop in President Barack Obama’s approval and trust ratings.

In the survey released today by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, registered voters favored a special prosecutor by 76 percent to 17 percent. Those backing such a move included 63 percent of Democrats.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan support for an independent investigation into the IRS,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute, said in a news release.

The IRS earlier this month disclosed that it singled out groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny before deciding whether to grant tax-exempt status under the tax code’s Section 501(c)(4). That status would allow those organizations to hide their donors even when engaging in political activity. Some Democratic-leaning groups also received requests for additional information.

The IRS focus on certain groups is one of three controversies besetting Obama in the early stages of his second term. Also spurring criticism and congressional hearings are the administration’s response to the attacks last year on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya -- which killed four Americans, including the ambassador -- and the Justice Department’s seizure of telephone records of Associated Press journalists as well as the agency’s similar investigation of a Fox News reporter.

The department obtained the journalists’ records as part of probes into leaks that involved national security information.

‘Just Politics’

Voters, by 44 percent to 33 percent, said lawmakers speaking out on the IRS controversy were raising “legitimate concerns,” according to the Quinnipiac poll. At the same time, Republican-led criticism over the Benghazi attacks was dismissed as “just politics” by 43 percent, with 32 percent disagreeing.

Questions provoked by the seizure of the journalists’ records were considered “legitimate” by 37 percent of voters, with 24 percent disagreeing.

In the poll, 44 percent of voters said that investigating the IRS actions was the most important of the three matters, followed by Benghazi, 24 percent, and the search warrants for journalist records, 15 percent.

Even so, 73 percent of those surveyed said the top priority should be dealing with the economy and unemployment.

Views of Obama

The spotlight on the controversies has taken a toll on Obama’s standing. In the latest survey, 49 percent disapproved of his performance in office, with 45 percent approving. In a Quinnipiac poll released May 1, he received a 48 percent job-approval rating, with 45 percent disapproving.

Obama was judged honest and trustworthy by 49 percent in the latest poll, with 47 disagreeing. In September 2011, the last time Quinnipiac asked that question, 58 percent said Obama was honest and trustworthy and 37 percent said he wasn’t.

Earlier polls taken after the controversies erupted showed little impact on Obama. A May 16-19 ABC News/Washington Post survey gave the president a 51 percent approval rating, with 44 percent disapproving, virtually unchanged from March.

“Certainly, the negative publicity could affect the negative job approval,” Brown said. “It’s not a very big change. We don’t know whether continued airing of these controversies in the public domain will help or hurt the president’s numbers.”

Brown also said “the fact voters say 34-25 percent that the economy is getting better also may be a reason the president’s job-approval numbers have not dropped further.”

Political Parties

Sixty-eight percent of voters said they are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the way things are going in the U.S.; 32 percent said they’re “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.”

Voters expressed negative views of both major political parties, as well as the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

The Republican Party was viewed unfavorably by 50 percent of those polled, while 35 percent had a favorable opinion; for Democrats, the breakdown was 47 percent unfavorable, 42 percent favorable. The Tea Party was rated unfavorably by 38 percent, and favorably by 28 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll of 1,419 registered voters, taken May 22-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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