Glenn Reynolds | Obama’s scandals will hurt his party in 2014

So last week, while most of the country was talking about football or fears of a government shutdown, Rasmussen released a poll that should worry everyone — but especially incumbent Democrats in Congress. According to Rasmussen’s survey, most Americans think the IRS broke the law by targeting Tea Party groups for harassment, but few expect it to be punished. Fifty-three percent think the IRS broke the law by targeting the Tea Party and other conservative groups like the voter-integrity outfit True The Vote; only 24% disagreed. But only 17% think it is even somewhat likely that anyone will be charged, while 74% think that criminal charges are unlikely.

So a majority of Americans think that government officials who exercise an important trust broke the law, but only a very small number think anything will be done to punish them.

There are a couple of lessons to draw from this. One is bad for the country in general, but the other is bad for congressional Democrats.

The lesson for the country is that trust in the government is very low. (In another Rasmussen poll, 70% think that government and big business often work together against consumers and investors. According to Gallup, trust in government is lower than during Watergate.) But it’s worse than that.

Believing that government officials break the law is one thing; believing that they face no consequences when they’re caught and it becomes public is another. Not only is this a sort of “broken windows” signal to other bureaucrats — hey, you can break the law and get away with it — but it’s particularly damaging where the IRS is concerned.

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