President Barack Obama's popularity has been hurt by the recent trio of controversies swirling around his administration, but Americans' optimism about the burgeoning economy may be helping to blunt their overall disapproval, according to a new poll.
About 45 percent of voters say they approve of the job the president is doing versus 49 percent who do not, according to a survey by Quinnipiac University released Thursday. About a month ago, a similar poll showed that 48 percent approved of Obama versus 45 percent who did not.
The change comes mostly from independent voters, who went from 42 percent approval and 28 percent disapproval last month to 37 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval currently. Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of Obama and Democrats approve of him by a similarly lopsided margin, neither of which changed over the last month.
Obama's administration has endured attacks from Republicans on the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya; the revelation that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative political groups for increased scrutiny; and moves by the Justice Department to issue sweeping search warrants on journalists to find government leakers.
With 44 percent of voters citing it, the IRS scandal is the most important of the three, followed by 24 percent naming Benghazi and 15 percent saying the Associated Press records seizure, according to the poll.
"There is overwhelming bipartisan support for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a memo that accompanied the poll results. "Voters apparently don't like the idea of Attorney General Eric Holder investigating the matter himself, perhaps because they don't exactly think highly of him. Holder gets a negative 23 [to] 39 percent job approval rating."
The IRS is universally loathed, with 66 percent of voters disapproving of the agency and just 24 percent approving, according to the poll.
Overall trust in the government is virtually nonexistent. Only 3 percent of those polled say they trust the federal government to do the right thing almost all the time, 12 percent say they trust it most of the time, 47 percent say some of the time and 36 percent say hardly ever, the poll shows. The numbers nearly mirror those from a poll taken in July 2010 before the Republicans swept into control of the House based on anti-government sentiment.
"All of these investigations may be having a negative effect on voters' willingness to trust the federal government to do the right thing," Brown said.
But Brown said the president's popularity may be buffered from falling too much despite the widespread distrust because of voters' perception of an improving economy.
"The fact that voters say 34 [percent to] 25 percent that the economy is getting better also may be a reason the president's job approval numbers have not dropped further," Brown said.
And despite the headlines, about three-quarters of voters say they would like lawmakers to focus on the economy and lowering unemployment, rather than focusing on the controversies.
The poll surveyed 1,419 registered voters from May 22 to 28 with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent.