Poll analysis by Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus
Most Americans regardless of party believe political reasons drove the Internal Revenue Service to single out for burdensome and unnecessary scrutiny some conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll out Thursday. The public splits across party lines, though, about whether President Obama and his administration were involved.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents- 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents - said they think the IRS targeting was motivated by politics, rather than adherence to the tax code policy. But while forty-four percent think the Obama administration had a hand in the targeting, 40 percent said they believe the agency acted on its own.
There are partisan differences: 70 percent of Republicans think the Obama administration was involved - a belief shared by only 19 percent of Democrats. Sixty-five percent of Democrats said they think the IRS acted independently.
Approximately one-quarter - 24 percent - of Americans polled said they support the tea party, a movement whose organizations were reportedly selected by the IRS for heightened scrutiny. Tea party supporters were especially likely to term the activity illegal, and to suspect the Obama administration was involved.
While six in 10 respondents agreed the IRS behavior was wrong, they were divided on whether the agency's actions were illegal, or merely unethical. Republicans - particularly tea party supporters - were more likely to describe the IRS's targeting of conservative groups as illegal: 39 percent said they believed the IRS engaged in illegal behavior, compared to only 21 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents.
Twenty-six percent of Americans said they don't think the IRS activity was wrong.
As hearings on Capitol Hill rage on to explore the origins of the targeting scheme, most Americans said they are following the story, with 21 percent who said they are following it very closely. Tea party supporters said they are paying particularly close attention: 76 percent are tuned into developments, and 38 percent who said they are following it very closely. Just 16 percent of Democrats said they are following the news very closely.
This poll was conducted by telephone from May 31-June 4, 2013 among 1,022 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News/The New York Times by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.