The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.
(Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)
(CBS NEWS) -- As the Obama administration responds to criticism over IRS practices targeting conservative groups for higher scrutiny, a new poll from Washington Post/ABC News indicates that a majority of Americans believe the IRS was deliberately harassing these groups - and nearly 3 in 4 Americans see the behavior as inappropriate.
According to the survey, which polled 1,001 adults from May 16 to May 19, 56 percent of adults said they thought the extra focus on conservative groups was deliberate, while 31 percent said it was likely an administrative mistake. Democrats were slightly more likely to think it was a mistake, while 72 percent of Republicans said the targeting seemed deliberate.
Earlier this month, the IRS apologized for having implemented a policy that placed conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status under higher scrutiny than other groups.
So far, it's unclear whether any laws have been broken, or which. But 51 percent of adults said they thought the targeting was probably illegal, and three in four adults (74 percent) said the IRS practice was inappropriate. Forty-four percent said they thought it was inappropriate but not illegal.
The White House is taking heat over a handful of other controversies as well: Republicans continue to hammer the administration over its response to a 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, and the Department of Justice is under fire for having sought the personal correspondences of journalists reporting on national security issues.
According to the Washington Post-ABC poll, most adults think the Obama administration is hiding something on Benghazi. Fifty-five percent think it's trying to cover up the facts on Benghazi; 33 percent say it's disclosing what it knows.
Adults are mixed on whether or not Republicans are raising legitimate concerns on the issue (44 percent), or whether they're trying to score political points (45 percent).
A little more than half, however, think federal prosecutors were justified in obtaining Associated Press phone records, and just 33 percent say the department was not justified in obtaining the records.
Overall, adults had mixed feelings on whether the government could potentially infringe on the freedom of the press in its efforts to protect classified information: 32 percent said they were very concerned about the situation; 37 percent said they were somewhat concerned; 18 percent said they were not too concerned, and 11 percent said they were not concerned at all.
Despite questions about the various controversies plaguing the Obama administration, the president still has a positive approval rating among these adults: 51 percent approve of the way he's handling his job as president, and 44 percent disapprove.