The public paid limited attention to last week’s congressional hearings on Benghazi. Fewer than half (44%) of Americans say they are following the hearings very or fairly closely, virtually unchanged from late January when Hillary Clinton testified. Last October, 61% said they were following the early stages of the investigation at least fairly closely.
The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 9-12 among 1,000 adults, finds that Americans are deeply split over how both the administration and congressional Republicans are handling the situation. Four-in-ten (40%) say the Obama administration has generally been dishonest when it comes to providing information about the Benghazi attack, but 37% say they have been generally honest. And when it comes to the GOP-led investigation, 36% say Republicans have gone too far in the hearings, while 34% say they have handled them appropriately.
Not surprisingly, these reactions divide cleanly along partisan lines. Among Republicans, 70% say the Obama administration has been dishonest and 65% say the hearings have been handled appropriately. Among Democrats, 60% say the hearings have gone too far, and 62% say the administration has been honest.
The judgment of independents leans against the administration at this point: By a 48% to 30% margin independents say the administration has been generally dishonest. But independents are split when it comes to Republican handling of the hearings.
Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats (36% vs. 18%) to be following news about the Benghazi hearings very closely. This mirrors earlier measures of interest in the Benghazi situation dating back to last year. Republicans also are critical of what they see as insufficient press attention to the issue: 51% of Republicans say that news organizations have been giving too little coverage to the Benghazi hearings, compared with 26% of Democrats and 33% of independents.
About half (56%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they regularly watch the Fox News Channel, and this group is particularly frustrated over the Benghazi situation. Fully 79% of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say the Obama administration has been dishonest, compared with 60% of Republicans who don’t watch Fox regularly. Nearly half (46%) of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say they are following the story very closely – compared with 23% among other Republicans. Those who regularly watch Fox News are also far more critical of the news media: 59% say the hearings have not received sufficient coverage by the news media.
News about the rescue of three women who had been held captive in a Cleveland home was far and away the public’s top story last week. Four-in-ten (40%) say they followed the story very closely, more than followed reports about the condition of the U.S. economy (28% very closely) or news about the Benghazi hearings (23% very closely).
Interest in the rescue of the Cleveland women is higher than for the discovery of Jaycee Dugard, in August of 2009; at that time, 27% said they were very closely following news about Dugard, following her reappearance more than 18 years after having gone missing. Women (45%) are more likely than men (35%) to say they are very closely following news about the rescue of the women in Cleveland.
Amidst high public interest in the story, 61% say news organizations have given the right amount of coverage to the Cleveland rescue; fewer than a quarter (21%) say there has been too much new coverage and 10% say there has been too little.
News about the immigration debate in Washington (20% very closely) and political violence in Syria (17%) garnered modest levels of public attention. In 2013, Pew Research surveys have measured interest in the debate over immigration five times, with very close interest climbing no higher than 23% in early April.