PRINCETON, NJ -- Slim majorities of Americans are very or somewhat closely following the situations involving the Internal Revenue Service (54%) and the congressional hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its aftermath (53%) -- comparatively low based on historical measures of other news stories over the last two decades.
These results are based on a May 14-15 Gallup poll. Despite extensive news coverage of these stories in recent days, the level of attention being paid to each is below the average 60% of Americans who have closely followed more than 200 news stories Gallup has measured over the past several decades. Additionally, Americans appear to be paying almost exactly the same levels of attention to both stories, despite the relative newness of the IRS story during the time in which this survey was in the field.
Republicans More Tuned In
Republicans are much more likely to say they are following these news stories closely than are independents or in particular Democrats. There is a 21-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats in terms of following the Benghazi story closely, and a 27-point gap on the IRS story.
Most Agree That Both IRS and Benghazi Deserve Further Investigation
Most Americans agree that both of these situations are serious enough to warrant continuing investigation, with little difference in views of the two -- 74% for the IRS matter and 69% for Benghazi.
Americans place similar importance on these two issues despite the administration's appearing to give more weight to the IRS situation. The Obama administration has acknowledged the seriousness of the IRS situation, going so far as to fire the acting head of the IRS as a result, while being more critical of the continuing focus on the way it handled the aftermath of the Benghazi crisis. However, Obama on Wednesday released a long series of emails relating to the development of talking points after the crisis and Thursday asked Congress to increase embassy funding worldwide.
Majorities of all three partisan groups agree or strongly agree that the IRS situation needs investigation. Just under half of Democrats and a majority of Republicans and independents believe Benghazi should be investigated.
On both issues there are large partisan differences. These differences may reflect the Obama administration's relative focus on the two stories, with a large Republican versus Democratic gap of 49 points on the "strongly agree" dimension in terms of Benghazi, compared with a 29-point gap on the IRS.
The amount of attention Americans are paying to the IRS and the Benghazi situations is well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years. This overall lack of attention is due in part to Democrats' and, to a lesser degree, independents' lack of interest, which stands in sharp contrast to the significantly above-average attention among Republicans.
Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to strongly agree that both situations are serious enough to require investigation. But, this partisan gap is much larger on the Benghazi news than on the IRS issue. This may reflect that rank-and-file Democrats are following the administration's lead in putting greater emphasis on the importance of the IRS crisis, while downplaying the importance of continuing investigations into its handling of Benghazi.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 14-15, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.