Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Press and the Presidency

A Survey of Public Attitudes Toward the Press in Light of the Iran-Contra Affair

Report Summary

Reagan’s Fall

The extent to which President Reagan’s image has been tarnished by the Iran-Contra arms scandal has been evident in the major public opinion surveys released over the last month.  The current Gallup/Times Mirror survey results further document Reagan’s fall.  The number themselves — the proportion of Reagan supporters versus critics — are less important than the dynamics and character of the change in public opinion.  In fact, Reagan’s approval rating has rebounded somewhat since early December and a greater number now approve (52%) than disapprove (39%) of how the President is handling his job.  ………. Such an approval rating is actually somewhat above the norm for a President at this point in his term.  But while positive evaluations of the President’s performance outnumber negative ones, his critics are more critical than his supporters are supportive.

Fallout on Other Institutions

……….. Two other institutions involved or associated with the arms trading and secret diplomacy — the military and the CIA — also show some damage to their public image.  benefiting, no doubt, from the popularity of the Libyan operation in early 1986, the military’s favorability score had improved to the point where 31% express very positive views last summer.  Than number is down to 19% since the revelations about Iran, and one in six (16%0 now has an unfavorable opinion of the military, up from 10% in the previous survey.  The CIA’s overall favorability score has also fallen, from 50% very or mostly favorable in July to 38% currently.  One-third (34%) now have an unfavorable view of the intelligence agency.

While some journalists have taken great pains to point out that it was not the press who decided to sell arms to Iran or to secretly funnel money to the Contras, the press has not been able to escape damage from a situation that ha depressed the mood of the nation.  Favorability ratings for print (“the daily newspaper you are most familiar with”) and broadcast media (“network TV news”) have both been affected.


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