Poll finds disapproval of PSU's handling of scandal

Posted: August 27, 2012

Recent efforts at reputation rehabilitation by key players in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal do not appear to have won over many Pennsylvanians, polling data released Saturday suggest.

The Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll found the state's voters widely disapproved of the way figures such as former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier, head football coach Joe Paterno, and Gov. Corbett handled allegations against the former assistant coach convicted in June of molesting 10 boys.

Still, 48 percent of poll respondents said they felt Penn State had been punished too much during the last year - a response that came on the heels of a crippling set of NCAA sanctions that cost the university $60 million and tossed Paterno from his perch as college football's winningest coach.

The survey, conducted between Tuesday and Thursday, asked 601 likely Pennsylvania voters of their opinions on the scandal. The poll had a margin of error of four percentage points, said the Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group and Republican counterpart National Research Inc., which jointly conducted the survey.

The poll's results came the same week that Spanier unfurled a multiday media blitz hoping to restore his image. A university-backed report released last month accused him, Paterno, and other officials of seeking to cover up Sandusky's crimes to protect the college's image.

Spanier blasted those findings in interviews with The Inquirer and several other Pennsylvania papers last week and maintained he knew nothing about early allegations lodged against Sandusky.

And though Saturday's polling data were collected even as that media campaign played out, the poll suggests respondents were not at all impressed. Only 10 percent said they approved of Spanier's handling of the crisis, as opposed to the 77 percent who thought he had bungled the job.

Paterno fared slightly better with a 28 percent approval rating and 65 percent who said they were diappointed by his actions.

The late coach's family has fought tooth and nail to protect Paterno's image since his death from lung cancer in January, going so far as to openly criticize the university's current administrators.

In July, the family blasted university president Rodney Erickson's decision to remove an iconic bronze statue of Paterno from outside the campus' football stadium. Its removal did "not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help the Penn State community," they said at the time.

And nearly half of poll respondents - 48 percent - agreed. Forty-five percent said they backed Erickson's decision.

Corbett, meanwhile, has borne a wave of criticism for his decision as attorney general to put the Sandusky investigation through a three-year grand jury process. Critics say he should have arrested Sandusky in 2009, when the first credible allegations against him surfaced.

And despite explanations that prosecutors needed the full three years to build an airtight case, the debate remains a sore subject for the governor.

"Why are you all obsessed with that?" the normally composed Corbett fired back last month when a reporter asked if he had any second thoughts about how he handled the case as attorney general. "I did my job. The men and women on that jury did their job. And that's the end of the story."

Only 17 percent of poll respondents said they approved of how he had approached the investigation, while 61 percent found his decisions lacking.

Despite their disappointment with key officials, the poll's respondents said the worst crisis in Penn State's history had not done much to influence their Nittany Lion fandom.

Nineteen percent described themselves as avid fans before Sandusky's arrest - a number that dropped off only two points when respondents described their post-scandal feelings. Forty percent said they were not Nittany Lions fans at all.

Contactk Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter. 

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