Kevin McCarthy Doesn’t Have Enough Fans Inside The House … Or Outside It

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Many of us at FiveThirtyEight have been glued to C-SPAN this week, as we’ve watched the yet-to-be-sworn-in House repeatedly try — and fail — to elect a speaker. With a slim majority in the chamber, Republicans were held hostage by a far-right flank of the party that refused to support the establishment pick Rep. Kevin McCarthy, leading to multiple, redundant rounds of voting and some heated infighting

While this political stalemate is notably historic, it can also feel a bit inside baseball. It got me wondering how Republican voters are feeling about the party and its leadership as a whole. It’s a bit too early to have polling on this week’s dramatics, but some recent surveys have captured the general mood of Republicans heading into the vote for speaker. In a late November poll from Deseret News/HarrisX, Republicans were pretty evenly split on whether they thought McCarthy should continue to be a party leader: Thirty-five percent said he should maintain his role as a leader, 33 percent said the party should move on from McCarthy, and 32 percent said they were unsure or didn’t know. This ambivalence about McCarthy stood in contrast to Republicans’ feelings toward other party leaders, which were much more cohesive. Most Republicans said that former President Donald Trump should remain a leader and that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ought to be replaced. Similarly, in another poll from November fielded by The Economist/YouGov, 39 percent of Republicans said McCarthy should remain a leader in the House, but a slim majority (51 percent) said they either didn’t know or didn’t care.

It’s not that McCarthy is wildly unpopular among Republicans, but he’s not exactly a fan favorite, either. In that Economist/YouGov poll, 45 percent of Republicans viewed McCarthy favorably, compared to 31 percent who viewed him unfavorably — not great, but not as bad as, say, McConnell, who had a 55 percent unfavorable rating amongst his party. A CNN/SSRS poll in December found McCarthy’s net approval was +30 points among Republicans, the second-lowest same-party net favorability among all first-time potential speakers in nearly three decades. That same poll also found 15 percent of Republicans had “never heard of” McCarthy, while 28 percent had no opinion of him. And the GOP rank and file’s relatively lukewarm feelings for McCarthy may be emboldening right-wing dissenters to continue their crusade against his speakership — polling suggests voters won’t be fussed too much whether McCarthy is speaker or not. 

And overall, Republican voters seem open to shaking things up when it comes to party leadership. In a late November poll from the Trafalgar Group/Convention of States Action, voters were asked, “After the results of the 2022 midterm elections do you think Republicans need new leadership in Congress?” and 73 percent of Republicans said yes (though, as you can see, the question was a bit leading). Another poll from Trafalgar Group/COSA released this week found Republicans overwhelmingly would like to see a new party chair: Seventy-three percent said the GOP should elect someone other than current Chair Ronna McDaniel at upcoming meetings, while just 6 percent said McDaniel should be reelected. That’s to say nothing of the ongoing debate over who ought to be the party’s presidential nominee next year: While Trump is still very popular among Republican voters, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has picked up some serious early steam, suggesting voters have at least some appetite for change even at the highest level of party leadership.

So given its disappointing showing in the 2022 midterms and voters’ stated desire for new blood, the GOP would be arguably unwise to not consider shaking things up a bit. Whether that helps drive someone other than McCarthy to the speaker’s chair is, as of publication, still yet to be seen.

Other polling bites 

  • Recent polling from Gallup suggests that Americans aren’t too optimistic about the country’s prospects in 2023. The overwhelming majority of Americans (90 percent) said that this year will be one of political conflict, as opposed to political cooperation, while around three-quarters predict economic difficulty (79 percent) and increased crime rates (72 percent). That said, the general mood seems to split along partisan lines, with Democrats feeling more positively than Republicans and independents falling somewhere in the middle: For example, 53 percent of Democrats believe that the stock market will pan out positively this year, versus 15 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of independents. In contrast, it seemed like the two parties were most closely aligned in believing that Russia’s global dominance will dampen in 2023.
  • A USA Today/Suffolk University survey conducted last month shed light on the traits and attributes that Americans would like in their ideal president come 2024. Half of the survey’s respondents said they’d prefer a president between 51 and 65 years old, while another quarter favored someone between 35 and 50. And while 55 percent of Americans said that gender doesn’t matter, 28 percent preferred a man — a number that rises distinctly among Republican respondents (50 percent). Further, Midwesterners were more likely than respondents from other regions to prefer the executive come from their own region: Twenty-seven percent of Midwestern Americans favored someone from the heartland, while 20 percent of East Coasters, 18 percent of Southerners and 16 percent of West Coasters said the same about a president from their home regions.
  • Around half of Americans (49 percent) think that people are less comfortable being around those who are sick now compared with before the pandemic, per a Jan. 3 YouGov poll. Age seems to be a factor, as 57 percent of Americans age 65 or older were less comfortable. That checks out with other questions from that same YouGov survey, in which 50 percent of Americans said that parents have become more cautious about their children contracting and spreading illnesses since the onset of COVID-19.
  • Since Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest in the middle of a game earlier this week, there’s been a renewed focus on the dangers of football and the NFL’s role in ensuring its players’ safety. According to a Jan. 3 poll conducted by CivicScience, 40 percent don’t trust the NFL at all to address players’ safety concerns, while 41 percent have only a little trust. The lack of faith, however, doesn’t seem to affect whether people will tune in to watch. Among NFL viewers, a large majority (72 percent) said they haven’t considered not watching games in light of player safety concerns.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 51.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -7.7 points). At this time last week, 43.2 percent approved and 51.4 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -8.2 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 41.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.5 points.

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