American Research Group (ARG) has completed a poll taken 7/3-5/07 on President Bush's decision to commute the jail sentence of Scooter Libby. The results are similar to those of the "instant" poll by SurveyUSA taken the night the decision was announced.
Do you approve or disapprove of President George W. Bush commuting the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby while leaving intact Mr. Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case?The results are strongly structured by party identification, which is certainly no surprise. Only 13% of Democrats and 19% of Independents approved of the commutation, while 50% of Republicans approved. However, as with the SurveyUSA poll, a substantial fraction of Republicans disapproved-- 47% in the ARG poll. Unfortunately, we can't tell for sure how many of these disapproved because the wanted a full pardon compared to how many disapproved because they wanted Libby to serve out his sentence. The survey did ask if respondents favored a pardon, but the news release (so far at least) has not given the cross tab between these two questions which would let us know how these two different reasons for disapproval break out. Perhaps that will be released later.
The high levels of disapproval among Democrats and Independents is not surprising, but the high disapproval among Republicans is surprisingly high.
When asked if they favored a full pardon for Libby, 23% of Republicans said they did. If we make the extreme assumption that ALL of these said they disapproved of Bush's commutation, then 47%-23%=24% of Republicans disapproved the commutation AND did not want a pardon, implying they thought Libby should serve his jail sentence. This is certainly an underestimate since it is doubtful that the pro-pardon group were entirely in the disapprove of commutation category, but it at least sets a lower limit on support for jail among Republicans. As with the SurveyUSA poll, this suggests a significant fraction of Republicans thought Libby should serve time in jail.
The distribution of opinion on the pardon question (text: "Do you favor or oppose a complete presidential pardon for Mr. Libby?") is shown below:
Only 7% of Democrats and 2% of independents favored a pardon, compared to 23% of Republicans. A still large 70% of Republicans opposed a pardon, while 7% said they don't know. The independents in this sample are surprising for how overwhelmingly hey opposed a pardon, even more so than Democrats (82% Dem, 97% Ind.) That is puzzling enough that I'm not sure I believe the 97% number. It is NOT due to small sample size, because independents make up 33% of the ARG sample. The SurveyUSA poll didn't find Independents so much more extreme than Democrats on a pardon. Almost always we find independents between Dems and Reps on partisan questions like this, so I can't explain why independent opinion on this question would be so unanimous, when even Democrats are at least a bit more willing to see Libby pardoned. I'll hold out a possibility of a typo in the web page on this one. If correct, it is awfully huge opposition to a pardon among independents.
Compare these plots with those for the SurveyUSA poll here.
There will surely be some new polling data taken or reported over the weekend on this, so we should learn more on how opinion is shaping up on this issue by Tuesday.