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Pardon?

Topics: George Bush

In a column predicting a presidential pardon for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Slate's John Dickerson speculates about the potential impact on such a pardon on the job approval rating of President George Bush:

The number of people who would be angered by a pardon who haven't already abandoned the president could fit in an airport shuttle bus. Given the conservative defections from Bush over his support of immigration reform, a pardon of Libby-which would be popular with conservatives-might actually improve his approval ratings. Libby's conviction is seen as such an outrage among conservatives that one former Bush aide suggested "the consequences of not pardoning, if Scooter is led away in shackles, will be uglier than pardoning."

I'm not so sure. I have no doubt that Dickerson hears genuine outrage at Libby's conviction from the activist conservatives he talks to, but recent public opinion polls show little evidence of the same sentiment extending to the majority of rank-and-file Republicans.

Two survey organizations, Gallup and CNN/ORC, asked about a potential Libby pardon back in March:

Gallup (n=1,009 adults, March 11-14) - As you may know, a jury found Libby guilty on four out of five criminal counts. Do you think George W. Bush should or should not issue a presidential pardon for Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

21% Yes, should
67% No, should not
12% No opinion

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation (n=1,027 adults, March 9-11) - As you may know, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's former top aide, was recently found guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with the CIA leak investigation. Do you think George W. Bush should or should not give a presidential pardon to Libby?

18% Should pardon
69% Should not pardon
13% No opinion

While these results obviously show that, relatively few Americans reacted favorably to the notion of a Libby pardon in March, Dickerson argues that conservatives feel differently. So I asked for tabulations of those results by party, and here, thanks to a quick response from both Gallup and CNN, are the results:

06-15%20pardon.png

So support for the Libby pardon is higher among Republicans. However, while roughly a third of Republicans supported a Libby pardon in March, more than half expressed opposition. Thus, "the number of people who would be angered by a pardon who haven't already abandoned the president" might fit more than a few airport shuttle buses.

The Gallup analysis does show slightly greater support for a pardon (44% support, 55% oppose) among the relatively few Americans (13%) who say they were following the issue "very closely" back in March. So perhaps we might find evidence of more "outrage" at the Libby verdict among those Republicans who have been following the story closely. However, I checked with Gallup, and only 14% of Republicans - and 4% of all adults -- fit into that category.

Perhaps support for Libby has been growing among Republicans since March? Unfortunately, neither Gallup nor CNN have asked this question since. However, the Rasmussen automated poll (which if anything may over-represent the opinions of well informed Americans) shows Libby's favorable rating at just 19% overall (and 34% among Republicans [sub. req.]) as of last week.

Of course, to really test Dickerson's theory, we would want to see how many Republicans are both unhappy with Bush and eager for a Libby pardon, and compare that to the number that currently approve of Bush's performance but oppose the idea of a Libby pardon. To do that, particularly in light of the continuing decline in the Bush ratings since March, we would need to work with more current results. But my guess is that even among Republicans, the net impact of a Libby pardon on Bush's job rating would not be positive.

One last point: Given the relatively low attention scores given this issue on Gallup's poll back in March (and even lower attention paid to the Libby trial as measured by the Pew Research Center in February), we can assume that the results above -- like many questions asked lately about immigration policy -- measure mostly "reactions" rather than currently held opinions. But in this case, reactions are what we care about. The question is how Americans would react to a Libby pardon, and while others may differ, I assume that coverage such a story would stress the same details regarding Libby's conviction as included in the questions quoted above.

UPDATE: Gallup sends the numbers that "really test" the theory plus more thoughts here.

 

Comments
gjdodger:

Here's why Bush won't get a bump from pardoning Scooter--the reasons for doing so are, like the reasons for getting into Iraq in the first place, theoretical and strange-sounding to the general electorate. The Bush Administration had to contrive WMD's and an Al Quada link to garner public support, because "We need to conquer Iraq to ensure a bunker from which to exert American influence on the Middle East" would've been left with a, "Huh?" Similarly, the reasons the pundits are calling for Scooter's pardon are 1) He was a soldier in the Administration's effort to gain public support for the above war justification, 2) He had to lie to prevent that effort from being undermined. It really doesn't have anything to do with what would be characterized as ideological conservatism; it's a neocon thing, and those people remain with the President.

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ed pefferman:

Scooter Libby should be shot as a traitor, not jailed as a liar.

His boss, ElDuce should be shot and hung from a lamp post

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Chris G:

this is a great example of the fallacies behind many polling analyses. its naive to assume that all you have to do is ask someone to what they think to figure out the influence of a big media event like the pardon. the real effect will involve so much more than voters simply hearing a single sentence that's analogous with what polling interviewers ask.

for example, the fact that support for Bush among conservative pundits could take a further hit is pretty important, above and beyond how many of them would fit in a shuttle bus-- they have loud microphones among the conservative base and might be all the less likely to support Bush on *other* issues, which in turn could influence future opinions among those who listen to them.

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William Post:

Ed Pefferman's comment above illustrates the problem with public opinion polls-too many idiiots with opinions in public!

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Luigi:

Ed Pefferman is is expressing himself using hyperbole to emphasize his point. He is not an idiot. Libby lied to cover-up an act of treason perpetrated by his boss, who happens to be vice president. His boss and/or Rove compromised the identity of a clandestine agent in order to suppress the truth that the leadership had used false evidence to invade a country without justification (war crime). Anyone else doing such a thing would have been tried for treason, and there are many in Guantanamo who did far less. Historically, the type of government official capable of doing such an act would have been someone like a fascist dictator such as el Duce, or more recently a figure like Saddam Hussein.
This opinion poll informs us that the American population has tired of this administration's tactics, and has become less forgiving.

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Rudy you are clueless as to what this Counry wants and keep refering that only a republican can win this war and that democrats are in denial. Only a republican started this war and democrats are not in denial we are committed 100% to not vote for a used car salesman like you or "silver spoon" Mitt. And of course both of you if not all of the republican candidates "duck and hide' whenever Bush is present. You "duck and hide" when your guy is near. The guy you voted for gave permission to spend all of this money in Iraq, forgetting about health care insurance nationally and education-your guy. Who is "flip flopping " now.
No denial here Rudy.You just don't get to be preseident"flip floper".Bush may have to pardon his entire cabinet. Giving up a C.I.A. opperative because her husband did not believe Iraq had W.O.M.D. what the hell is that all about? They still don't have W.O,M.D. never had in the first place. Yeah Rudy we will vote for a republican real; soon like in a century, maybe.

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Rudy you are clueless as to what this Counry wants and keep refering that only a republican can win this war and that democrats are in denial. Only a republican started this war and democrats are not in denial we are committed 100% to not vote for a used car salesman like you or "silver spoon" Mitt. And of course both of you if not all of the republican candidates "duck and hide' whenever Bush is present. You "duck and hide" when your guy is near. The guy you voted for gave permission to spend all of this money in Iraq, forgetting about health care insurance nationally and education-your guy. Who is "flip flopping " now.
No denial here Rudy.You just don't get to be preseident"flip floper".Bush may have to pardon his entire cabinet. Giving up a C.I.A. opperative because her husband did not believe Iraq had W.O.M.D. what the hell is that all about? They still don't have W.O,M.D. never had in the first place. Yeah Rudy we will vote for a republican real; soon like in a century, maybe.

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Rudy you are clueless as to what this Counry wants and keep refering that only a republican can win this war and that democrats are in denial. Only a republican started this war and democrats are not in denial we are committed 100% to not vote for a used car salesman like you or "silver spoon" Mitt. And of course both of you if not all of the republican candidates "duck and hide' whenever Bush is present. You "duck and hide" when your guy is near. The guy you voted for gave permission to spend all of this money in Iraq, forgetting about health care insurance nationally and education-your guy. Who is "flip flopping " now.
No denial here Rudy.You just don't get to be preseident"flip floper".Bush may have to pardon his entire cabinet. Giving up a C.I.A. opperative because her husband did not believe Iraq had W.O.M.D. what the hell is that all about? They still don't have W.O,M.D. never had in the first place. Yeah Rudy we will vote for a republican real; soon like in a century, maybe.

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