Obama Approval Rating: Could It Spell Disaster For Dems in 2014?

Despite the Obama administration's attempts to move on, voters are not yet ready to let the Internal Revenue Service off the hook.

Obama's approval rating has taken a hit in the wake of "scandal week," dropping from 48 to 45% since May 1, and his disapproval rating has risen from 45 to 49%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Of the three major scandals — the handling of Benghazi, the Justice Department's Associated Press records seizure, and the IRS' targeting of conservative political groups — an overwhelming majority of Republicans (88%), Independents (78%) and Democrats (63%) support an independent investigation into the IRS issue.

On Benghazi, a plurality of voters (43-32%) believe that "congressional criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the terrorist attack in Libya is 'just politics." There also appears to be little interest in the AP scandal, with a mere 15% believing it to be the most important of the three — as apposed to 44% for the IRS scandal and 24% for Benghazi.

Does this spell trouble for Obama in the 2014 midterm elections?

One could easily make that argument based on the nation's' waning trust in the administration. Voters have long been accustomed to political bickering and infighting, yet remain largely secure in their belief that federal government agencies like the IRS are non-partisan. These scandals — particularly that of the IRS — have eroded the trust in government, whether or not Republicans look to exploit it politically.

In fact, the poll cites that "Americans are divided 49-47% on whether Obama is honest and trustworthy, down from 58-37%, the last time Quinnipiac University asked the question September 1, 2011." This could be especially damning for the administration because the issue of trust is relatively non-partisan. If the public loses the foundational trust that the American government puts its job of serving citizens ahead of partisan politics, it could spell disaster, no matter what party is in question.

As a caveat, the Quinnipiac poll is not the only one out there. The Gallup Daily Tracker contrasts with the Quinnipiac findings, showing Obama's approval rating largely unchanged through the duration of the scandals. Nonetheless, it would be a heavy dose of wishful thinking to believe that the administration has survived these scandals unscathed, particularly in regards to its trustworthiness — the Gallup poll is strictly approve/disapprove, lacking the detail of Quinnipiac.

Obama's survival on these issues will require more than the usual speech laying out his position against his critics and cannot be blamed on Republicans. It will require a restoration of public trust in the government's ability to — um — govern. The perception (whether or not the facts back it up) of a government that uses its various branches and agencies to manipulate and control the population is a scary and powerful one. Obama should not take it lightly or else it could mean serious losses for Democrats in 2014 and ultimately 2016.

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Rick Galvez

Rick Galvez is a recent International Relations MA graduate of Syracuse University's Maxwell School, focusing on U.S. foreign policy, security and development with experience working in the Department of State and abroad in Italy. He enjoys hockey (go Rangers), traveling, and writing about himself in the third person. Check out his blog at http://ejgforeignaffairs.blogspot.com/

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