Many Americans are doubtful about the Obama administration's claims that it didn't know about the IRS applying additional scrutiny to conservative groups until after that targeting had already taken place, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Americans in the survey were split over whether the Obama administration directed the IRS to give extra scrutiny to conservative groups. Thirty-six percent said it did, while another 37 percent said that the IRS acted on its own. Twenty-six percent said they weren't sure. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has accused the White House of engaging in a cover-up and said that he believes that the scrutiny was "directly being ordered from Washington."
But although most respondents weren't ready to agree with Issa's contention that the administration directed the IRS to apply additional scrutiny to conservative groups, they were more likely to say that the administration at least knew about the targeting while it was happening, with 45 percent saying it did know and 30 percent saying the administration only learned about the additional scrutiny after the fact.
Other surveys have shown that most Americans think the IRS targeting of conservative groups was out of line. A CNN poll conducted in May found that only 26 percent of Americans thought the IRS' actions were acceptable, while 71 percent said that they were unacceptable. And a CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday found that 31 percent of respondents thought what the IRS did was illegal, while another 29 percent said it was unethical and only 26 percent said that the agency had done nothing wrong.
In the HuffPost/YouGov survey, majorities of both Republicans (74 percent to 7 percent) and independents (52 percent to 21 percent) said they believe the administration knew about the unfair scrutiny while it was happening, while Democrats said that the administration only found out after it happened by a margin of 58 percent to 16 percent.
A 66 percent to 13 percent majority of Republicans also said they believed the Obama administration directed the IRS to target the conservative groups. Independents also were more likely than not to say that the administration directed the scrutiny, 40 percent to 28 percent, although 32 percent of independents said they weren't sure. A 65 percent to 11 percent majority of Democrats said that they did not believe the targeting of conservative groups was directed by the administration.
The CBS News/New York Times survey released Thursday also found a big partisan gap in opinions of whether the administration was in any way involved with the IRS' actions. Still, that poll found that majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents all believed that the IRS policy was politically motivated.
According to the new HuffPost/YouGov poll, 65 percent of Americans now have an unfavorable opinion of the IRS, while only 17 percent have a favorable opinion. The percentage of Americans rating the IRS unfavorable has increased since another HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted May 13-14, shortly after information about the IRS targeting became public. That poll found that most Americans rated the IRS unfavorably by a margin of 59 percent to 21 percent.
Other polls conducted since the targeting became public have shown that opinion of the IRS has taken a plunge. A recent Gallup poll found that the percent of Americans rating the IRS as doing a poor job has increased from 20 percent in 2009 to 42 percent after the targeting story broke, though the time gap between the two polls makes it difficult to say with certainty that the targeting story was responsible.
Still, a Washington Post/ABC News survey conducted in April shows that the agency's ratings prior to the targeting story breaking were much more closely divided than in the HuffPost/YouGov polls conducted since the story broke. In the Washington Post/ABC News survey, 49 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the IRS, while 48 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.
The new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that most Americans have heard about the IRS scrutiny. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that they had heard a lot, 33 percent said they had heard a little, and only 14 percent said they had heard nothing at all about the scandal.
The poll was conducted June 3-4 among 1,000 adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.