Here’s, perhaps, a case study in just how difficult it is for any story to gain traction in the nation’s current frenetic news environment: most Americans appear to have remained more or less indifferent to the ongoing saga of a top White House official attempting using his office to procure an increasingly bizarre catalog of perks.
This April, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was already embroiled in at least a dozen controversies. A majority of Americans said they weren’t sure whether or not he’d done anything wrong.
Since then, the EPA administrator has racked up a laundry list of additional scandals ― at least 10 in the past month alone. Pruitt, according to new stories, attempted to set up a “business opportunity” for his wife with Chick-fil-A. He tried to have an aide buy him a used hotel mattress. He spent more than a thousand dollars on customized silver fountain pens. (Less luridly but perhaps more consequentially, he’s also proposed a slate of radical policy changes at the EPA.)
But as a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, while Americans are hardly leaping to Pruitt’s defense, many are still simply not paying him much attention. Only 23 percent of Americans say they’ve heard a lot in the news lately about Pruitt, with 35 percent saying they’ve heard only a little, and 42 percent that they’ve heard nothing at all.
Nearly half, a plurality, say they’re uncertain whether or not Pruitt has done anything wrong. Another 43 percent say that Pruitt has done something wrong, while 8 percent absolve Pruitt altogether.
Slightly under a third think President Donald Trump should fire Pruitt, up 9 points since April. Currently, 14 percent say the president shouldn’t give him the axe. The majority, 55 percent, are undecided.
The survey, it must be noted, was conducted largely before the news broke that Pruitt had enlisted his staff to drive him around on a quest to find his favorite brand of hotel lotion.
Pruitt’s actions also seem to have had at most a modest effect on views of the Trump administration more broadly. Only 29 percent of Americans say that Pruitt’s actions reflect badly on Trump. The vast majority of those who hold that view already think poorly of the Trump administration.
Forty-six percent of Americans say that this White House has seen more scandals than past presidencies, while 19 percent say it’s seen fewer and 21 percent that things have been about par for the course.
Voters who supported Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly say that the Trump White House is unusually scandal-prone. Trump voters are somewhat more divided, with 45 percent saying the administration has fewer scandals than in the past, 31 percent that it’s about average, and just over a tenth that it has more scandals than usual.