Obama’s poll numbers hold up despite the storm of scandal

President Obama’s approval ratings have increased since a trio of controversies involving his administration began dominating the news cycle.

Fifty percent of those surveyed in Gallup’s three-day tracking poll released Wednesday say they approve of the job the president is doing, compared to 43 percent who said they disapprove.

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The 7-percentage point positive margin is better than where the president stood in the poll over the two weeks before the IRS and Department of Justice scandals broke, and is near Obama’s rating over the waning days of the 2012 campaign when voters convincingly elected him to a second term in office.

Obama’s Gallup numbers are up three percentage points since the pollster’s May 23-25 survey and suggest Obama’s approval ratings held steady, even as the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups made headlines.

The Real Clear Politics average of approval ratings shows the president with a considerably closer spread, at 48.6 percent approval and 47.6 percent disapproval. The average is dragged down by three recent polls from Rasmussen, Fox News, and The Economist/YouGov, which show him below water on favorability by 2, 6, and 5 percentage points respectively.

Besides the IRS controversy, Obama is being hammered with questions from Republicans and the press over the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records in separate probes of national security leaks.

But the timing of the controversies has intersected with positive economic headlines. The stock market is rising, as are home values, while the unemployment rate has fallen to a new low under Obama. Consumer confidence hit a five-year high in May.

“We know that in the big picture, national conditions matter an enormous amount,” Pew Research director Michael Dimock told The Hill in an interview. “I think the jury is still out on how optimistic the public is, but [the economic data] is certainly a good argument.”

Dimock says it’s usually not the first round of scandal that will lose public support for a president, but rather a bungled response to a controversy, a sustained drip of new revelations, or a confluence of events that reinforce a pre-existing perception.

“It’s still kind of early,” he said. “Around D.C., we tend to think this would have an immediate effect, but history suggests it will take a while for things to register.”

Dimock pointed to former President George W. Bush, who weathered a number of setbacks before his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina finally sunk him.

“When Katrina hit, it was probably big enough on its own to ding him, but in the context of concerns and criticisms about the way he operated, and the choices he made in delegating authority, it exploded into an extremely steep dip in popularity,” Dimock said.

Recent polling also suggests that while the public is following and concerned about the stories surrounding the IRS, the Justice Department and Benghazi, the blame for the scandals hasn’t yet reached the White House.

For instance, a recent CNN-ORC poll showed Obama at 53 percent favorable and 45 percent unfavorable. According to that poll, more than 70 percent called the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups unacceptable, but 55 percent said they believed the IRS acted on its own, and more than 60 percent said they believed the president was unaware of the practice while it was going on.

“I think it’s probably a lot to expect that these kinds of scandals would move the needle in a big way early on,” Dimock said. “These things have been modest in their visibility so far … the battles over who's to blame and how much just reinforces the views of the engaged electorate and probably skims over the top of the part of the electorate open to changing its views.”