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Fox News poll: Majority thinks White House knew about IRS actions

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May 21, 2013: A woman holds an upside-down flag during a tea party rally protesting extra IRS scrutiny of their groups in Cherry Hill, N.J. (AP)

Voters are concerned about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups for unfair treatment, and over half think the White House either knew it was happening or -- worse yet -- was actually behind the operation.  

That’s according to a Fox News poll released Tuesday.

The IRS recently admitted it targeted tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when the groups sought tax-exempt status.  

Most voters think the White House was involved in the IRS scandal in some way:  37 percent think the administration knew it was going on but didn’t initiate the policy, while another 29 percent believe the White House directed the IRS to go after those groups.  

About a quarter (24 percent) says the White House had absolutely nothing to do with what the IRS was doing.    

Almost all of those who identify with the Tea Party movement think the White House was involved:  58 percent think the administration intentionally had them targeted, and 31 percent believe that while the White House knew about the unfair treatment, it wasn’t behind it.  

Confidence in the IRS has dropped significantly.  The poll finds 42 percent of voters have “a great deal” (7 percent) or “some” (35 percent) confidence in the agency.  That’s down from 62 percent who had at least some confidence in the IRS in May 2003 (the last time the Fox News poll asked Americans to rate the IRS).

Seventy-eight percent of voters are concerned that certain groups have been singled out, including 50 percent who are “very” concerned and 28 percent “somewhat” concerned.  

Even more -- 84 percent -- are worried individual Americans could receive the same unfair treatment (61 percent “very” and 23 percent “somewhat” concerned).

The poll asked about three current Obama administration controversies.  A 32-percent plurality says the IRS scandal is the worst, followed by Benghazi (27 percent) and the Justice Department seizing the phone records of reporters (21 percent).  

Democrats (26 percent) and independents (28 percent) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (11 percent) to say the Justice Department controversy is the worst.  

The IRS scandal tops the list for both Republicans (39 percent) and Democrats (28 percent).  Still, Republicans are more likely to pick it as the most troubling by an 11-point margin.  

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 1,013 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from May 18 to May 20.  The full poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.