Executive Privilege? Most Don't Think It Exists

July 06, 2012, 1:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 6/30/2012) The public hasn’t paid close attention to the debate over Operation Fast and Furious, a program created by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that kept illegal guns on the street in hopes of building better criminal cases against gun traffickers. Only 56% in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll have heard of the program and the Congressional inquiry in which for the first time a sitting Cabinet official — Attorney General Eric Holder — was cited with contempt of Congress by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Obama Administration claimed executive privilege in refusing to turn over some documents about the operation to the congressional committee charged with leading the inquiry.

But the public is divided: in fact it sees problems on both sides of the dispute. On the one hand, it doesn’t accept the Administration’s claim of executive privilege: by 38% to 28%, Americans do not believe that the Constitution grants the President the right to claim "executive privilege" and withhold documents from Congress.

Even some Democrats aren’t sure the President can claim this privilege: 36% of Democrats say he can, but 22% disagree.

But Congress doesn’t go without blame, either. By 52% to 42%, Americans aware of the "Fast and Furious" controversy think the congressional investigation of the operation is motivated by politics more than by a desire to get to the bottom of what happened. And only 9% of the public approves in general of how Congress is handling its job, far fewer than the 42% who approve of the President’s performance this week.

Attorney General Holder himself gets a negative assessment: 21% view him favorably, while 41% do not.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here

Photo source: Press Association