The series of controversies in Washington over the last month have taken a political toll on President Barack Obama, according to one new poll released Monday that showed his ratings slipping.
Even as Americans mostly back the National Security Agency’s controversial practices involving the “data-mining” of phone and internet records, Obama’s own approval rating has suffered slightly, driven by drops in support among independent voters.
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found that Obama’s approval rating – the number of Americans who say he is doing a good job as president – is now under water; that is, more Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job than approve. Forty-five percent of Americans said in the CNN poll that Obama is handling his job well, while 54 percent said they disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president.
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That’s a drop from just three weeks earlier, when a series of national polls, including CNN’s, found Obama’s approval rating holding steady amid a series of controversies involving his administration’s handling of the targeting of conservatives by the IRS, the crafting of talking points on the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and revelations that the Justice Department had targeted journalists’ phone records as part of a leak investigation.
The weeks since then have seen the administration being forced to respond to an explosive new controversy, this one involving the disclosure of classified domestic surveillance techniques undertaken by the NSA. And though the administration has won supporters in both parties for these practices, the feeding frenzy in Washington appears to finally be taking some toll on the administration.
The most pronounced shift in CNN’s numbers over the last three weeks came among independent voters, the pivotal voting bloc that has counted increasing numbers of disaffected Republicans among its ranks. Obama’s approval vs. disapproval rating among independents went from 47 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval in mid-May to 37 percent approval and 61 disapproval in the most recent CNN/ORC poll, which was conducted from June 11-13.
That mirrors the results of the June 4 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that Obama’s favorability rating among independents had fallen from 37 percent in April to 28 percent most recently.
The slippage is further demonstrated on the question of whether Obama is seen as honest and trustworthy. Forty-nine percent of Americans said in June’s poll that such a label applies to Obama, versus 50 percent who said it does not. (That question was 58 percent to 41 percent in favor of Obama several weeks ago, and again, the number of independents who said they would call Obama honest and trustworthy dropped by 12 points over the past few weeks.)
Obama also suffers from a sharp negative shift among younger voters, though the sample size in both polls was higher than for most other sub-categories.
The figures in this one poll, though, could suggest that several weeks’ worth of difficulty have had a cumulative effect on Obama. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they disapprove of the way Obama is handling the government’s surveillance of U.S. citizens, while just 35 percent approve.
But whether any of these controversies is able to diminish the president’s long-term political standing remain to be seen.
And Monday’s CNN poll isn’t all bad news for Obama, either. Even amid the lingering IRS, Libya and Justice Department controversies, Americans appear to slightly favor the controversial NSA monitoring practices themselves that prompted the most recent outcry from civil libertarians.
A majority of Americans don’t think the Obama administration has overreached in its pursuit of terror suspects. Thirty-eight percent of Americans said they were content with the way the Obama administration had balanced between preserving civil liberties and fighting terrorism; another 17 percent said Obama hadn’t gone far enough in curbing liberties to pursue terror suspects. But of all three views, a plurality of 43 percent said the administration has gone too far in disregarding civil liberties.
Americans were mostly split on whether the NSA was right or wrong to collect domestic phone data for analysis, the program at the NSA uproar. Fifty-one percent of Americans said the administration was right to continue that practice, which had begun during President George W. Bush’s administration, versus 48 percent who said such a practice was wrong.
Americans were also more forgiving of the NSA’s monitoring of foreigners’ internet communications in the name of pursuing terrorist suspects. Sixty-six percent of Americans said the government was right to undertake such a program, versus 33 percent who said it was wrong.
The June CNN/ORC poll was conducted June 11-13, and has a 3 percent margin of error for its entire pool of respondents. The subsample of self-described independents has a 4.5 percent margin of error. By reference, the May CNN/ORC poll was conducted from May 17-18 and has a 3 percent margin of error for its overall sample, and a 5 percent margin of error for its subsample of independents.