Politics

Republicans' Views of McConnell Now Tilt Negative

by Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Republicans are more likely to have an unfavorable opinion (35%) of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than a favorable one (30%). Just 18 months ago, Republicans were twice as likely to view him positively (47%) as negatively (23%).

Trend: Republicans' Opinions of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

Republicans viewed McConnell favorably from 2010 -- three years after he became the party's Senate leader -- through 2014. During his time as minority leader, his favorable ratings were generally near 50% and his unfavorable ratings near 20%.

That has changed now that Republicans have control of the U.S. Senate, and McConnell is the legislative leader of that chamber. In an August poll, Republicans' opinions of McConnell were evenly divided at 34% favorable and 32% unfavorable. But in the last couple of months, their opinions of him have tilted negative.

Soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House John Boehner is also viewed more negatively than positively by his party base. Like McConnell, Boehner had been rated more positively than negatively by the GOP before this year.

GOP Opinions of Mitch McConnell

It is unusual for a legislative leader to be viewed more negatively than positively among rank-and-file supporters of the party. But Republicans' views of McConnell and Boehner may be suffering this year because the party base is frustrated with the lack of legislative success, even though the GOP has control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006. Divided party control of the federal government, with a Democratic president who is unsympathetic to GOP initiatives, is a major impediment to Republicans' achieving their policy goals.

Frustration with the party's congressional leadership helps explain why Republicans are less likely to approve of the job the GOP-controlled Congress is doing (9%) than are Democrats (13%) and independents (16%). Typically, congressional approval ratings are significantly higher among supporters of the majority party.

The Oct. 7-11 poll was conducted before Obama, McConnell and other congressional leaders agreed on a deal this week to raise the debt ceiling limit and fund the government through early 2017. That bipartisan agreement may improve McConnell's image among Democrats and independents, but may not help his cause among the GOP base. Democrats and independents have consistently rated McConnell more negatively than positively, and their ratings of him this year are no worse than they were last year.

McConnell Favorable Among All Americans at New Low

Given the trends in opinions of McConnell by political party, it is no surprise that his 18% favorable rating among all Americans is his worst to date -- slightly worse than the 22% he has averaged since October 2013, around the time of the last major federal government shutdown. Currently, 41% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of McConnell, and 40% are not familiar enough with him to rate him.

Trend: Americans' Opinions of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell has never been very popular among all Americans -- his best reviews to date came in 2010, when opinions of him were about equally positive and negative. That included 31% favorable and 32% unfavorable ratings in March 2010. By April 2013, opinions of him turned more negative (34%) than positive (26%), and grew significantly worse during the October 2013 shutdown.

Implications

Boehner stunned political observers when he announced he would resign as speaker of the House, partly because of frustration with his leadership among Republicans in Congress. McConnell, along with presumptive Speaker-to-be Paul Ryan, will now attempt to move the GOP agenda forward.

But McConnell is in little better shape image-wise among Republican supporters nationwide than Boehner was, though the majority leader may be facing less internal pressure from his Republican Senate colleagues to step aside than Boehner did from his fellow House Republicans.

Whether McConnell can regain past goodwill among his party's supporters is unclear. If the party base is upset with him mainly because the GOP has failed to get legislation it favors passed into law, then prospects of a near-term recovery of his image appear slim. Obama would likely veto Republican-favored legislation, assuming it could pass through a possible Senate filibuster. If the party base is upset with McConnell mainly because it perceives the leadership has not tried hard enough to advance GOP legislation, then a more aggressive approach from him and Ryan may win the majority leader back some of his lost support.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-11, 2015, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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