Slim majority believe Watergate was a serious matter, according to CNN poll

posted at 12:01 pm on August 8, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Well, this explains a few things about our current politics – or maybe politics in general. Tomorrow will mark the fortieth anniversary of the only presidential resignation in American history, when Richard Nixon stepped down rather than face impeachment and removal over the abuses of power uncovered in the Watergate scandal. Back then, those abuses shocked the nation, especially after the White House tapes showed Nixon himself deeply involved in them. These days, nearly half of all Americans think of it as business as usual:

Forty-six percent of people believe the events leading up to the resignation of President Nixon were “just politics,” according to a new poll that coincides with the 40th anniversary of his stepping down.

The CNN poll found a narrow majority, 51 percent, believe the Watergate scandal was a serious matter, while slightly less describe it as the kind of thing in which both parties engage.

Or maybe that’s business as usual:

Those numbers have been relatively constant over the last three decades. When the question was asked in 1982 — eight years after Nixon resigned — 52 percent said it was a very serious matter, while 45 percent described it as just politics.

That’s been a remarkably stable outcome, actually, over the last 32 years of polling on the question. The results have ranged from 52/44 to 49/46, within the margins of error. The most recent result was in 2002 on the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and it was 51/42.

One common thought about the legacy of Watergate was the erosion of trust in the institutions of self-governance, but the trend lines in polling show that erosion started well before Watergate. It seems almost quaint now, but in 1958, 73% of people trusted government in Washington all (16%) or most (57%) of the time. Even as late as 1966, 65% said the same thing (17/48), but by 1968 (61%, 7/54) that began to shift, thanks most likely to the Vietnam War. By 1972, when the break-in took place but before it became a national scandal, trust had dropped to 53% (5/48), and then dropped sharply again in 1974 (36%, 2/34), with sustained majorities in the “some” category ever since. The only exception to that came four weeks after 9/11, when trust in government surged ever so briefly (60%, 13/47).

Today? It’s 13% (1/12) with 76% saying “some” and 10% “never,” the first time in the series that “never” has reached double digits. Just before Barack Obama took office, the trust figure was 25% (3/22). Big business gets slightly more trust than Washington at 17% (1/16), but it’s within the MOE of the government figure.

The demographics on the Watergate question are remarkable for their consistency. Republicans (51%) and Democrats (58%) both tend to think of it as a serious matter, but a slim majority of independents (51%) say it was politics as usual. Younger voters also tend to dismiss it (44/52), while all other age demos fall in line with the overall results.

Count me in with those who consider it a serious matter — and an unlearned lesson, as I wrote yesterday:

The familiarity of these events, coupled with the increasing impulse of Obama to abandon constitutional limits, shows that America largely ignored the lessons of Watergate. It’s not enough to be wary of executive power when the opposition party controls the White House, as Republicans belatedly learned in 1974; to defend and protect constitutional government and the rule of law, that vigilance has to exist at all times.

Some of the same voices that shrieked with horror at the threat of the “unitary executive” under George W. Bush seem perfectly comfortable now with Obama ruling by executive fiat rather than governing under the rule of law, as long as it’s only their bêtes noires that get targeted.

Maybe it is business as usual after all.


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It is business as usual. Campaign Shenanigans 101 is used as a learning tool and rules, once they’re in the White House.

31giddyup on August 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Why can’t it be both serious and business as usual?

Buck Farky on August 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Watergate, for me, increases my trust in government, in the constitutional limits on it.

After all, Nixon was undone by the government itself, the FBI, the judiciary, the Congress. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein.

This was a perfect example of the checks and balances, the separation of powers working to limit the abuses of one branch.

People will misuse power. That’s the history of human beings. So, how do we prevent that abuse? By limiting it, by checking it, by having “mechanisms” (as Madison called them) that will restrain those abuses.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

If the leftist press had not been so vocal in their cries for his resignation, he would have been fine. I mean look 25 years later a president actually got impeached and he stayed in office. You tell me what the difference was.

Deano1952 on August 8, 2014 at 12:09 PM

How many of those respondents thought “Watergate” was the new PBS sequel to Downton Abbey?

The stupid are taking over, the rest of us get real-time seats to witness the inevitable results.

Bishop on August 8, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Can anybody imagine Snuggles making this kind of statement?

When I first took the oath of office as President 51/2 years ago, I made this sacred commitment, to “consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations.”

I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today, not only for the people of America but for the people of all nations, and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war.

- from Nixon resignation speech 8 Aug 1974

Happy Nomad on August 8, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Does CNN and Liberals think it’s a serious matter that President Obama has sat back and allowed ISIS to release thousands of prisoners from jails to join their ranks and become soldiers of Allah?

Realdemocrat1 on August 8, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Watergate, for me, increases my trust in government, in the constitutional limits on it.

After all, Nixon was undone by the government itself, the FBI, the judiciary, the Congress. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein.

This was a perfect example of the checks and balances, the separation of powers working to limit the abuses of one branch.

People will misuse power. That’s the history of human beings. So, how do we prevent that abuse? By limiting it, by checking it, by having “mechanisms” (as Madison called them) that will restrain those abuses.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Poppycock.

bgibbs1000 on August 8, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Poppycock.

My account was completely accurate and factual.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Ed Martin, a MO GOP committee member, tried to censure or have address the ads calling Chris McDaniel and his supporters racist yesterday. It was swept under the rug.

Power at all costs. It’s becoming the norm.

dforston on August 8, 2014 at 12:15 PM

How many of those respondents thought “Watergate” was the new PBS sequel to Downton Abbey?

The stupid are taking over, the rest of us get real-time seats to witness the inevitable results.

Bishop on August 8, 2014 at 12:09 PM

I’d like a refund on my real-time seat for, say, Jan. 21, 2017, when I hope this creative process part of the nightmare is over.

31giddyup on August 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM

My account was completely accurate and factual.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Delusional is more like it.

bgibbs1000 on August 8, 2014 at 12:21 PM

Given the times, I wonder how the Johnson or Kennedy administrations would be measured against the lens of the Nixon administration.

itsspideyman on August 8, 2014 at 12:25 PM

What you really have to ask is “how does the press treat it?” Nixon was a Republican. This it was treated seriously. With Obama, far worse things have been done (wire tapping the freaking capitol building) but they are just business as usual because he is a Democrat.

Nixon never gets booted from office if he’s a Democrat. Meanwhile if, day, Bush had used the CIA to wiretap the senate, he’s have been impeached and removed.

eski502 on August 8, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Nixon’s such a tragic President for me. The man carried 49 states in his reelection bid, only to have to resign months later. Had he not been so deeply paranoid, we’d be talking about Nixon as one of our better Presidents. Which is to say, had he not been so badly burned by the dirty politics of the 1958 election, history would be very different.

Dafyd on August 8, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Delusional is more like it.

Let’s note your two responses have not corrected or challenged a single claim I made.

Not one.

Because, frankly, you can’t.

So you have to substitute name calling for substance.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:28 PM

No one died because of Watergate, and at least Nixon wasn’t bent on destroying the country.

Watergate was a nothing compared to Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional actions.

It is reprehensible that the country has changed to the extent that Americans as a body haven’t risen up in outrage.

INC on August 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Subsequent events have proven Nixon a piker.

Akzed on August 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Had he not been so deeply paranoid, we’d be talking about Nixon as one of our better Presidents.

Well, detente with the Soviets was a disaster.

His wage and price controls (administered by Dick Cheney!) was a disaster.

He failed to prevent the North’s decimation of the South in Vietnam.

The opening to China was considered brilliant but how did it benefit us?

I’m trying to think of the good things he did?

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

It wasn’t a serious matter, on the whole; not compared to what Nixon legally did as president, with the liberals’ blessing – inflation to finance the Great Society programs, EPA, OSHA, etc.

rickv404 on August 8, 2014 at 12:33 PM

I’ve never been a defender of Nixon, which puts me on the same page as Reagan, who did not have a high opinion of him.

Regardless, simple equity demands we apologize to Nixon for forcing him to resign while allowing Clinton to engage in far more lying, obfuscation, and coverup. And Obama has exceeded Clinton’s abuses of power by far.

There Goes the Neighborhood on August 8, 2014 at 12:33 PM

One political party spying in another is bad, but the Gonvernment using our health, all its agencies to spy, punish and politic is more acceptable?

Don L on August 8, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Dick Nixon actually ratcheted down the corruption and abuse of power that was practiced by his two immediate predecessors, JFK and LBJ. The book, “It Didn’t Start with Watergate” makes that crystal clear.

Unfortunately for Nixon, the revolt of the New Left along with the rise of the Leftist advocacy media, coincided to drive him from office. Also, Nixon lacked the personality and ease in his own skin to turn the tables on his Leftist tormentators. Many faux “conservatives”, such as George Will, made their chops by joining with the Left to deconstruct the American Republic. Thank you for your service President Nixon. RIP.

vilebody on August 8, 2014 at 12:36 PM

No one died because of Watergate, and at least Nixon wasn’t bent on destroying the country.

Watergate was a nothing compared to Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional actions.

It is reprehensible that the country has changed to the extent that Americans as a body haven’t risen up in outrage.

INC on August 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM

And twice at the expense of his career, Nixon resigned before he would take the country through the ringer. He refused to protest Kennedy’s victory, although there was compelling evidence of fraud, and resigned instead of dragging the country through impeachment.

itsspideyman on August 8, 2014 at 12:36 PM

had he not been so badly burned by the dirty politics of the 1958 election, history would be very different.

Dafyd on August 8, 2014 at 12:28 PM

You meant the 1960 Election, right?

ToddPA on August 8, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Nixon’s such a tragic President for me. The man carried 49 states in his reelection bid, only to have to resign months later. Had he not been so deeply paranoid, we’d be talking about Nixon as one of our better Presidents. Which is to say, had he not been so badly burned by the dirty politics of the 1958 election, history would be very different.

Dafyd on August 8, 2014 at 12:28 PM

I think you mean 1948 when he won a US senate seat in California and the press decided to hate him forever because of it. Also of note it’s now pretty well known that Joseph Kennedy through his son JFK contributed $10,000 to Nixon’s senatorial campaign that year.

bgibbs1000 on August 8, 2014 at 12:38 PM

The familiarity of these events, coupled with the increasing impulse of Obama to abandon constitutional limits, shows that America largely ignored the lessons of Watergate.

Well said, Ed.

Of course, America today has largely ignored the lessons of virtually every historical event because — for the apparently-now permanent majority (the dependency class) — history began in 2008 …

ShainS on August 8, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Watergate is more important to those on the left because it gives them something to point at whenever one of theirs does something wrong. Typical liberal professor will rail about Watergate for several classes but when asked about Obama and the IRS will dismiss that as nothing saying Watergate was much worse, insignificant as the president described. To believe that for one to get to the highest office without ever breaking the rules is probably naive. For me, the brazen disregard for the law by the current administration trumps all previous administrations combined, Billy Bob Clinton included. If the MM played by the same rules for both sides I believe the public’s polling results would be different.

monster_man on August 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM

How many of those respondents thought “Watergate” was the new PBS sequel to Downton Abbey?

The stupid are taking over, the rest of us get real-time seats to witness the inevitable results.

Bishop on August 8, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Not me!!

O.K., I thought it was a Gate, that held back Water…

ToddPA on August 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM

More people know who Cynthia Nixon is compared to Richard Nixon.

While I always enjoy Ed’s take on most things, what happened 40 years ago is akin to what happened to Andrew Jackson 185 years ago.

The masses of asses in America don’t know more than 5 states , nor do they even know 2 Cabinet members. The fact CNN is highlighting this “40 anniversary” poll – while the world burns is par for the course of today’s politics and media.

Odie1941 on August 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

but by 1968 (61%, 7/54) that began to shift, thanks most likely to the Vietnam War.

Having lived through those days, I say it was definitely a legacy of the Viet Nam War, as is so much of our current social and political predicament. It was the feckless and crassly political management of the Viet Nam War that divided the country ideologically and resulted in each side to condemning the other morally. People raised their children with these attitudes and values. The radical Left made a concerted and largely successful effort to co-opt the education system, on the theory their “revolution” had only failed because the masses were not properly prepared to appreciate it’s necessity. Leftist values, principles, and distortions of history have been integrated into school curriculums for literally generations since.

It’s what happens when you fight wars without a moral mandate and without a rational end game plan.

novaculus on August 8, 2014 at 12:43 PM

I’m trying to think of the good things he did?

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Well, he did take us off the gold standard.

Oh, wait …

ShainS on August 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM

OT:

Carlos Danger to open restaurant in NYC!!

O.K., ladies, you know you want to order the Sausage Sandwich!!

ToddPA on August 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Let’s not forget one of the key pivotal moments in the Watergate scandal which came when the GOP leaders from Congress went to the WH and told Nixon that, with their support, the votes were there for not only impeachment, but conviction in the Senate. That was the shoe drop that convinced Nixon he needed to resign.

Today, the patrician class of both parties seems to lack the same willingness to stand on principles above and beyond the politics.

With Clinton’s impeachment, not one Democrat Senator or staffer, ever entered the room with the evidence to review the evidence. Today, when faced with Administration officials openly and brazenly lying to Congress, destroying critical evidence related to abuses of power and other criminal acts, and the contemptuous selective enforcement of laws as well as the arbitrary changing of laws by the Executive, Democrats on the Hill, in the name of political loyalty and expediency, demonstrate themselves to be hypocrites and unprincipled hacks.

The media did play a significant role in the Watergate scandal, and by choice, and politics, they’ve decided to not play any role in holding this Administration accountable. That’s why so many LIV and others don’t see anything wrong with the current rash of scandals from this unprincipled and arrogant Administration.

Athos on August 8, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Have they found the plane yet?

Galtian on August 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Well, he did take us off the gold standard.

And he did prevent the Soviets from intervening in the Yom Kippur War on behalf of the Egyptians.

The old Defcon 3 maneuver.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:55 PM

obama makes Nixon shine.

Schadenfreude on August 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

OT:

Carlos Danger to open restaurant in NYC!!

O.K., ladies, you know you want to order the Sausage Sandwich!!

ToddPA on August 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Ewwww!

31giddyup on August 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

And he did prevent the Soviets from intervening in the Yom Kippur War on behalf of the Egyptians.

The old Defcon 3 maneuver.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Had to look that up online — was a kid at the time and never learned this.

Thanks for the history lesson …

ShainS on August 8, 2014 at 1:09 PM

Had to look that up online — was a kid at the time and never learned this.

I was 11. Don’t remember anything about it at that time.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 1:14 PM

The Democrats don’t want to rehabilitate Nixon. They only want to rehabilitate the things he did, because Obama’s doing them, too. But other than the progressive fanatics, it’s hard to believe in one thing and not the other, so the result has been the low-info voters who were willing to forgive Obama his actions in the 2012 election and are still at least holding out hope for him today have simply become blase about any Constitutional violations, no matter who makes them.

jon1979 on August 8, 2014 at 1:40 PM

OT:

Carlos Danger to open restaurant in NYC!!

O.K., ladies, you know you want to order the Sausage Sandwich!!

ToddPA on August 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

What’s the lowest rating the New York City Department of Health can give a restaurant?

jon1979 on August 8, 2014 at 1:42 PM

There was more to Watergate than the official story, so I’d consider it a serious matter.

As for Nixon, he was a smart guy with very few conservative bones in his body. The MSM should have adored him, but that Alger Hiss matter led to a lifetime of hate from the left.

DisneyFan on August 8, 2014 at 2:04 PM

The only thing that Watergate stopped was presidents recording their own conversations. If Nixon had burned the tapes he would have served out his entire term. It was a net loss for historians.

SC.Charlie on August 8, 2014 at 2:24 PM

DisneyFan on August 8, 2014 at 2:04 PM

Nixon was hated by the Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post, was a close friend of John F. Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy’s.

SC.Charlie on August 8, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Watergate, for me, increases my trust in government, in the constitutional limits on it.

After all, Nixon was undone by the government itself, the FBI, the judiciary, the Congress. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein.

This was a perfect example of the checks and balances, the separation of powers working to limit the abuses of one branch.

People will misuse power. That’s the history of human beings. So, how do we prevent that abuse? By limiting it, by checking it, by having “mechanisms” (as Madison called them) that will restrain those abuses.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Seriously naive. Nixon was undone because of Deep Throat (Mark Felt, who was very senior in the FBI) and Woodward and Bernstein. If it hadn’t been for them, the government would have done nothing. When Felt died a few years ago, many conservatives effectively crucified him for going public with what he found rather than “going through channels” (and presumably accepting government inaction).

jim56 on August 8, 2014 at 2:40 PM

Watergate, for me, increases my trust in government, in the constitutional limits on it.

After all, Nixon was undone by the government itself, the FBI, the judiciary, the Congress. It wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein.

This was a perfect example of the checks and balances, the separation of powers working to limit the abuses of one branch.

People will misuse power. That’s the history of human beings. So, how do we prevent that abuse? By limiting it, by checking it, by having “mechanisms” (as Madison called them) that will restrain those abuses.

SteveMG on August 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Poppycock.

bgibbs1000 on August 8, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Agreed, poppycock. What it does tell us is that honorable men were appointed by President Richard Nixon that followed the law. Those Democratics in Congress at the time followed the law because the target was a Republican.

Does anyone really think that Barry’s equivalents in his administration would do the same? Eric Holder? Really?

In Barry’s case the Woodward and Bernstein factor is irrelevant, regardless of how large a part they played re President Nixon.

slickwillie2001 on August 8, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Nixon was hated by the Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, the editor of The Washington Post, was a close friend of John F. Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy’s.

SC.Charlie on August 8, 2014 at 2:28 PM

That’s true when it comes to Watergate and WaPo coverage of the Nixon presidency, but the issues with Nixon and the media go back much earlier than that.

DisneyFan on August 8, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Watergate was Katherine Graham’s vendetta against Nixon for not granting her a TV station license.

What we have today makes that look like the joke it was.

formwiz on August 8, 2014 at 4:40 PM

jim56 on August 8, 2014 at 2:40 PM

Heree, read this, from July 1974: http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/archived/watergate.htm

It makes a very good argument that it wasn’t the Post and Deep Throat that primarily broke it open, but the grand juries and other investigations. They were *doing something* regardless what the Post was doing. In fact the Post was printing stuff leaked from those very investigations. It even names Felt as Deep Throat (In 1974!) although the writer wasn’t sure, calling the character a “composite”.

When Felt went public, we excoriated him for it because he did it for petty reasons – he was passed over by Nixon for the top job in the FBI. His coming out with it in 2005 was to get money out of the notoriety.

BTW, it was Felt who ordered the illegal wiretap that ultimately allowed Bill Ayres to go free (“Guilty as hell, free as a bird!”). Ironic, eh?

Buck Farky on August 8, 2014 at 5:24 PM

Some idiots still call Vietnam Nixon’s war.
Compared to what we had previously and since then, Nixon looks like a Eagle Scout with a lifesaving badge.

S. D. on August 8, 2014 at 6:46 PM

Some idiots still call Vietnam Nixon’s war.
Compared to what we had previously and since then, Nixon looks like a Eagle Scout with a lifesaving badge.

S. D. on August 8, 2014 at 6:46 PM

President Richard Nixon won the Vietnam War. After he was out of office Congress cut our military aid to South Vietnam and thereby lost the Vietnam War retroactively.

It should more properly be called Johnson’s war.

slickwillie2001 on August 8, 2014 at 7:09 PM

It was a serious matter, but not as serious as the media made it. Nixon was really stupid in his actions. We’ve seen by subsequent history that the Democrats have no real scruples that make them superior morally to Richard Nixon, which may be why he thought this was how the game was played.

The truth is that the rules are different for Republicans and Democrats, mostly because the majority of the MSM are Democrats and even when they elect a disaster like Clinton or Obama, they’ll still defend him against the GOP.

flataffect on August 9, 2014 at 1:53 AM