Poll: IRS the ‘Most Important’ Controversy

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(Courtesy: MGN Online)

Ashley Killough, CNN

(CNN) — Of the three major controversies plaguing the Obama administration in recent weeks, the drama surrounding the Internal Revenue Service is the most pressing to U.S. voters in a new survey.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 44% of registered voters say the IRS probe of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status is the most important. A little fewer than a quarter — 24% — say the Obama administration’s handling of last year’s terror attack against a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, is of the most concern, while 15% say the same about the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters.

But a large majority, 73% to 22%, say improving the economy is a higher priority than these three issues, according to the survey.

More than three-quarters of Americans say a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. Broken down by party, 63% of Democrats want such an independent probe, while 88% of Republicans say the same thing.

A plurality — 44% to 33% — say members of Congress who criticize the administration over the IRS controversy are raising “legitimate concerns.” Current and former IRS employees have appeared for congressional hearings in recent weeks, with more scheduled to come.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan support for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Voters apparently don’t like the idea of Attorney General Eric Holder investigating the matter himself, perhaps because they don’t exactly think highly of him.”

According to the survey, only 23% of voters approve of the job Holder is doing, compared with 39% who disapprove.

Regarding Benghazi, a plurality — 44% to 32% — say the criticism from congressional Republicans over the administration’s handling of the terror attack is “just politics.” As for the seizure of journalists’ phone records, 37% of voters say such action raises “legitimate concerns,” while 24% disagree.

As for President Barack Obama, his job approval rating stands at 49% in a new CNN Poll of Polls, which averages the six most recent nonpartisan, live-operator national surveys of the president’s approval rating; 46% said they disapprove. The polls were conducted in the past two weeks, after the IRS and AP controversies made national headlines. The president’s rating stands little changed from the CNN Poll of Polls conducted over the whole month of April, which showed the approval-disapproval split at 49-47.

In the Quinnipiac poll, 1,419 registered voters were surveyed May 22-28, with a sampling error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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