Public believes controversy a normal part of filling high government positions
PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama had to face tough questioning from the media this week over his process for choosing his top advisers after Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer withdrew their nominations for failing to pay back taxes. But Americans' support for Obama is hardly shaken, with fewer than one in five saying they are less confident now in Obama's ethical standards and his ability to manage the government than they were before he took office. A majority say they are "more confident" in both regards.
Most of those who say they now have less confidence in Obama are Republican identifiers. Thus, a great number of those who claim to be affected in a negative way probably did not have a great deal of confidence in Obama to begin with.
Additionally, the president's 65% job approval rating in Feb. 2-4 Gallup Poll Daily tracking is essentially the same as it has been throughout his brief time in office.
The public may be largely taking these Cabinet controversies in stride because it tends to view them as nothing out of the ordinary, according to the Feb. 4 USA Today/Gallup poll that probed reaction to the controversies.
Specifically, the poll finds 58% of Americans describing the controversies as "a normal part of the process of filling high-level government positions in any new administration." Only half that number -- 29% -- think they reflect poorly on the Obama administration, saying the administration "appears to be having more problems filling high government positions than is typical for new administrations." The remaining 12% have no opinion.
In addition to concerns about his nominees' ethics given their tax woes, Obama has also faced criticism for making exceptions to his pledge to not appoint former lobbyists to positions in his administration. This may have also applied to Daschle, who drew considerable income from healthcare consulting after finishing his Senate career, and was to be tasked with overhauling the nation's healthcare system.
Nevertheless, at least half of Americans think Obama has made progress so far on his promises to change the way Washington works (50%) and to limit the influence lobbyists have in his administration (53%).
A majority of 56% of Americans say they agree with Daschle's decision to withdraw his nomination, while just 10% say he should have continued his efforts to be confirmed. Thirty-four percent do not have an opinion on the matter.
The public is slightly more likely to believe that the Daschle situation is just another example of a culture of corruption in Washington (39%) than an isolated case of wrongdoing or a mistake on one individual's part (24%). Thirty-seven percent do not know enough about the controversy to offer an opinion.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 4, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
Polls conducted entirely in one day, such as this one, are subject to additional error or bias not found in polls conducted over several days.