I share Carl’s frustration and outrage of course. It is at least as much the insult of the defenses offered by the IRS as the offenses themselves. So the new guidelines were needed to deal with a flood of applicants even though they were instituted before any spike in applications. So if they are psychic, why the need for all the intrusive questions? And if the IRS employees are so overworked and short of time that they need to single out groups that (coincidentally) oppose the incumbent president, why do they have time to ask bizarre questions about prayers by members of these groups and why do they feel the need to be assured that members of these groups will not protest Planned Parenthood? Probably just an incompetent but innocent case of under supervised employees trying to manage their workload. Yup, no partisan targeting there. The final insult was that weasel Steven Miller asking for a bigger budget in order to prevent future abuse. Presumably they will then be able to investigate liberals too. Or ask twice as many harassing questions of conservative groups. Whatever. What are you going to do about it?
But I don’t really share Carl’s hopes that this scandal this will do much to shift the opinions of the swing-voters (never mind weakly identifying liberals) in regards to Obama. So liberal-leaning government employees harassed groups opposed to Obama and officials at the Treasury Department hid the information until after the election. Unless it actually goes to Obama (and maybe even if it does), I’m not sure how many opinions it changes. I tend to think of scandals as an opportunistic disease in their effect on public opinion regarding the president. If the median voter is discontented with how things are going, a scandal might turn that discontent into hostility. If they are basically happy with how the president is doing their job, the median voter is willing to overlook a lot.
Obama’s job approval rating seems to be holding up okay so far. The median voter seems basically indifferent to him. The economy is growing slowly and unemployment is high, but recent experience has tempered expectations. Reagan won forty-nine states with an unemployment rate that would have been political death fifteen years earlier.
George W. Bush’s job approval rating slid by about seven percent in the first five months of 2004. That coincides with the coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal, but there was a lot going on at the time so I’m not sure how much value to assign to the scandal. That doesn’t mean that the combination of publicity, activism among a party’s base, and outrage among elected elites can’t result in legal change, but my sense is that if the persuadable public turns hostile toward Obama over the IRS issue, it will be because other events convince them not to like Obama in the first place.