Michael Catalini writes over at National Journal today goes over the public opinion reaction to Watergate, Iran/Contra, and Lewinsky. His accounting of Iran/Contra and Lewinsky are fine, but he's a bit tripped up on Watergate. I wouldn't bother, but the headline and subhead are awful:
Wait About Two Months, Then Check the President's Approval RatingActually, I wrote about this just yesterday, and it's totally wrong. The actual story on Iran/Contra was that Reagan's approval rating collapsed in the very next Gallup poll -- but it was taken several weeks after Iran/Contra broke, back in the days when Gallup polling was far less frequent. So Catalini gets that right in the body of the story, but the headline writer somehow turned that into two months -- for all we know from the Gallup number, it was instant, but at any rate it's only one month.
Reagan and Nixon saw their approval ratings drop two months after Iran-Contra and Watergate. Clinton was a different story.
As for Watergate, Catalini writes:
The break-in at the Watergate occurred in June 1972, five months before Nixon rode to a landslide reelection, but the scandal did not damage his approval ratings until after two aides were convicted of conspiracy in January 1973. Between January and August, his approval rating dropped from 67 percent to 31 percent after the resignation of his top staffers, attorney general and deputy attorney general.However, what is important here is that the cover-up was largely effective up until early March 1973. That's why there was no effect on public opinion! People didn't actually know what "Watergate" was about yet. Specifically, things start unraveling in public with Pat Gray's Judiciary Committee hearings, which began on February 28 and continued well into March. There are plenty of news stories throughout the earlier months, including some pretty important revelations, but it's still a marginal story until then.
The point of all this is that we shouldn't expect some sort of delayed reaction to the current scandalmania.
Assuming, that is, that the basic facts stay more or less the same. But don't expect continued publicity about the same facts to change public opinion in any dramatic way, and don't expect people to mull it over for a few weeks and then decide they no longer approve of the job Barack Obama is doing. That's not what happened in those other cases, and it's not likely to happen with this one.