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Low Interest in Gonzales Controversy

Only half of Americans are following story closely

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Congress will begin formal hearings on Thursday (postponed from Tuesday) into the U.S. Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys, but a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that only about half of Americans are closely following the news about the situation closely. That's below average for news stories Gallup has measured over the years. There is also no strong sense from the public that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should or should not resign as a result of the controversy. Americans who have an opinion split about evenly on the issue. At the same time, Gonzales gets a low job approval rating for the way he is handling his job.

Following How Closely?

Only 53% of Americans are following the Justice Department controversy either very or somewhat closely:

How closely have you been following the news about the U.S. Justice Department in Washington dismissing eight U.S. attorneys -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Very closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not at all

No opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Apr 13-15

15

38

29

18

*

 

 

 

 

 

2007 Mar 23-25

14

32

31

22

1

* = Less than 0.5%

Despite the high visibility of this story in recent weeks, the attention Americans are paying to it is not high by historical standards. The average "closely followed" on stories Gallup has tracked over the past decade and a half is 60%, putting this story below average. 

The firing of the U.S. attorneys has become a highly charged partisan issue, with Attorney General Gonzales forced to respond to and testify before the Democratic-chaired Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, there is very little difference in the attention being paid to the story by partisanship. Republicans are no more or less likely to be following the story than Democrats.

Should Gonzales Resign?

Americans split roughly equally in their opinion on whether Gonzales should resign as a result of his handling of the dismissals. About one in five Americans do not have an opinion:

Do you think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should or should not resign over his handling of these dismissals?

Yes, should

No, should not

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Apr 13-15

41

37

22

 

 

 

2007 Mar 23-25

38

38

24

There are predictable partisan differences in response to this question. A slight majority of Republicans say that Gonzales should not resign, while a larger majority of Democrats say that he should.

Those who have been following the story closely are more likely than average to say that Gonzales should resign:

Subpoena

Americans have little problem with the idea of Congress subpoenaing the Justice Department to hand over documents in this case:

Do you approve or disapprove of Congress issuing a subpoena forcing the Justice Department to hand over documents in the investigation into these dismissals?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 13-15

67%

23

10

Gallup usually finds very high public support when asking questions about congressional investigations.

Job Approval

Just because a majority of Americans are not calling for Gonzales' resignation does not mean that the public feels he is doing a good job as attorney general:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is handling his job?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 13-15

25%

48

27

Although more than a quarter of Americans don't know enough about Gonzales' performance to offer an opinion on how he is handling his job, among those who do have an opinion, disapproval is running at about twice the level of approval.

Naturally, Republicans are more likely to approve than Democrats, but even among members of his own party, Gonzales receives only a fairly tepid 43% approval rating, with 29% disapproving:

One would not expect Gonzales to necessarily have high overall approval ratings, since he is part of an administration whose leader has been generating sub-40% approval ratings for seven months. Still, the fact that Republicans give him a relatively unenthusiastic approval rating is probably not a good sign for Gonzales if he is counting on highly motivated support from Republicans in Congress to save his job. Despite his overall low ratings, George W. Bush, is getting a job approval rating of about 75% among Republicans. (Gonzales receives a 60% approval rating among Republicans when it is recalculated by removing those who do not have an opinion.)

Bottom Line

Perhaps the most important finding from these new data is the degree to which Americans don't have opinions that tilt one way or the other on the Gonzales issue, at least not yet. Some Democratic leaders have said they will reserve judgment on Gonzales until after they hear Gonzales' Senate testimony, so it is possible that some Americans are following this lead. The fact that those following the news story closely are most likely to say that Gonzales should resign may not bode well for the future, particularly given the lack of partisan difference in the levels of attention being paid to the story.

At this point, however, elected representatives seeking to follow the lead of the people have been given no clear-cut course of action. Americans in general are not following the story closely, and are just as likely to say Gonzales should stay as say he should go, despite their general unhappiness with his performance.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 13-15, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

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