Congress

Majority Says Republican Leaders Held Back on Foley for Political Reasons

One-third say Foley situation has made them less likely to vote Republican

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The resignation of Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley from the House of Representatives after revelations he sent sexually explicit Internet messages to House pages has dominated recent political news. The issue has morphed into one that focuses as much or more on the House Republican leadership's handling of the situation as it does on Foley himself. It has become known that at least some members of the House were aware of Foley's sexually charged communication with pages for several years. Critics have alleged Republican leaders tried to cover up the incident to avoid a scandal while Republicans try to hold onto their congressional majority. Those more sympathetic to the Republicans have countered that the explicit nature of Foley's communications with pages was not made known until very recently, at which point Foley promptly resigned his position.

As is often the case when scandalous news bursts onto the scene in high-intensity campaigns, some observers are quick to conclude that it will have a major effect on voters. The real impact, however, is often not clear until days, or in some instances, weeks later.

The latest USA Today/Gallup poll was conducted Oct. 6-8, more than a week after the news became a front page story. The poll included basic tracking measures of attitudes toward the Republicans, President Bush, and voting intentions, as well as specific questions focused on the Foley situation itself.

The data suggest that the events have had a substantial impact on voting intentions, with the Democrats moving to a very significant 59% to 36% lead when voters are asked for which candidate they will vote in the Nov. 7 election. (This generic ballot will be analyzed in detail on Wednesday on galluppoll.com). President Bush's job approval rating (see Related Items) has dropped slightly from his mid-September high point, although the current 37% rating is in line with previous job approval ratings for the president over the last several months. Overall approval of the job being done by Congress is down to 24%.

The sections below analyze the American public's more specific reactions to various aspects of the Foley situation.

1. Is the Average American Focused on the Foley Situation?

The data suggest that 66% of Americans are paying attention "Very closely" or "Somewhat closely" to the events surrounding the Foley situation.

How closely have you been following the events surrounding Mark Foley, the former Republican Congressman who reportedly sent explicit Internet messages to young males who had worked as pages in Congress -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Very closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not at all

No opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

25%

41

18

16

1

In the context of Gallup's extensive database of news events evaluated with this "closely followed" measure, the Foley situation has about average attention levels. The most closely watched events in the Gallup database -- the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the beginning of the war with Iraq, the death of Princess Diana, and Hurricane Katrina, among others -- have a "very closely" rating of well above 50%. But at the other end of the spectrum, a number of news events have "very closely" ratings of 10% or lower.

Democrats are slightly more likely than Republicans to be following the Foley situation "very closely."

How closely have you been following the events surrounding Mark Foley, the former Republican Congressman who reportedly sent explicit Internet messages to young males who had worked as pages in Congress -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

%

%

%

Very closely

25

19

31

Somewhat closely

43

44

36

Not too closely

16

15

22

Not at all

17

22

11

2. Should the Republican Leadership Have Taken Earlier Action?

The USA Today/Gallup poll measured the public's views about the Republican leadership's actions with the following question:

Which comes closer to your view about the Republican leadership in Congress in this matter before the story became public -- [ROTATED: the Republican leadership decided not to take strong action against Mark Foley for political reasons, although they knew enough about what he was doing, (or) the Republican leadership did not know enough about what Mark Foley was doing to justify taking strong action against him]?

Did not take action for political reasons

Did not know enough to take action

No opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

54%

34

12

This type of question is a challenge for survey researchers because it provides respondents with two fairly involved descriptions of alternative ways of looking at a situation. These descriptions are designed to be accurate representations, but they are, by their nature, subjective representations that may or may not be agreed with by all of those involved. Thus, it is important to analyze the results in the specific context of the way in which these two questions were worded.

Given that, it is clear that the American public is significantly more likely to agree with the "did not take action for political reasons" explanation than they are with the "didn't know enough about what Mark Foley was doing" explanation -- by a 20-point margin, 54% to 34%.

Three-quarters of Democrats agree with the political explanation, along with 52% of independents. One out of four Republicans also agree that their leadership knew enough to take strong action, but didn't for political reasons:

Which comes closer to your view about the Republican leadership in Congress in this matter before the story became public -- [ROTATED: the Republican leadership decided not to take strong action against Mark Foley for political reasons, although they knew enough about what he was doing, (or) the Republican leadership did not know enough about what Mark Foley was doing to justify taking strong action against him]?

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

%

%

%

Did not take action for political reasons

27

52

76

Did not know enough to take action

61

30

17

3. Should Dennis Hastert Resign as Speaker?

Much of the discussion surrounding this case has focused on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, with some saying Hastert had been alerted some time ago to problems with Foley's behavior (even if the full extent of his actions were not made clear to Hastert) but did not take assertive action to deal with it. Those who believe Hastert knew enough about Foley's behavior to act are alleging a cover-up and calling for him to resign.

A slight plurality of Americans agree that Hastert should resign, but this is not an opinion held by a majority, in part because one out of five Americans doesn't have an opinion on the issue.

Do you think Dennis Hastert should -- or should not -- resign as Speaker of the House?

Yes, should resign

No, should not

No opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

43%

36

21

The sentiment on Hastert resigning is not overwhelming among any political group. A slight majority of Republicans agree that Hastert should stay, but one out of four say he should resign. And, only a slight majority of Democrats say that Hastert should resign.

Do you think Dennis Hastert should -- or should not -- resign as Speaker of the House?

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

%

%

%

Yes, should resign

26

43

55

No, should not resign

55

31

27

Trend data on Americans' overall ratings of Hastert show that the public is slightly more likely now than in June to know enough about the Speaker to have an opinion, but that most of that has gone into the unfavorable column. Still, Hastert's unfavorable (36%) to favorable (27%) ratio is not overwhelmingly negative.

Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Oct 6-8

27

36

23

13

2006 Jun 23-25

26

29

27

18

2004 Jul 30-Aug 1

27

17

31

25

2003 Jul 25-27

28

12

41

19

2003 Jan 3-5

32

10

36

22

2002 Sep 23-26

30

11

31

28

2002 Jul 26-28

31

15

29

25

2001 Aug 3-5

29

15

36

20

2000 Oct 25-28

28

9

37

26

1999 Sep 10-14

23

7

22

48

1999 Feb 19-21

31

10

32

27

4. The Impact of the Foley Situation

As noted, the trend data on the generic ballot show a strong movement toward the Democrats.

When Americans are asked directly about the impact of the Foley situation on their vote, the majority says it won't make a difference in their vote. But among those for whom it does make a difference, the direction is negative: 34% are less likely to vote Republican as a result of the Foley situation, compared to 9% who are more likely.

As a result of this incident, are you -- [ROTATED: more likely to vote for the Republican candidate for Congress, will it make no difference to your vote, or are you less likely to vote for the Republican candidate for Congress]?

More likely

No difference

Less likely

No opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

9%

53

34

4

What if Hastert were to resign as Speaker of the House? Would that make a significant difference in the voting behavior of Americans?

Two-thirds of Americans say that it would not, and the rest are almost split. These data suggest that the net effect of a Hastert resignation would not make a dramatic difference in the votes of Americans given that 13% claim they would be more likely to vote for the GOP, but 16% say they would be less likely to vote for the GOP.

If Dennis Hastert resigns as Speaker of the House, would you be -- [ROTATED: more likely to vote for the Republican candidate for Congress, would it make no difference to your vote, or would you be less likely to vote for the Republican candidate for Congress]?

More likely

No difference

Less likely

No opinion

2006 Oct 6-8

13%

65

16

6

Implications

It is often difficult to disentangle the precise impact of one event on the public's attitudes and behavior. In terms of the Foley situation, it is clear from tracking Gallup's generic ballot that there has been a big change. Gallup analysis has all year called attention to the fact that the environment was propitious for Democrats to make significant gains in the mid-term elections and Democrats have led Republicans among registered voters on the generic vote for Congress ballot for most of the year. In mid-September, although Democrats still led among registered voters, Gallup analysis suggested that Republicans were enjoying their usual turnout advantage among likely voters and that the race could still be close. Now, in this "post-Foley" poll, both the registered voter and likely voter gap for the Democrats has become substantial, almost certainly at least in part a result of the Foley situation fallout.

The specific data collected here show that voters do believe that the Foley situation was kept quiet by Republican leaders for political reasons. The fact that the majority of voters say the situation is not affecting their vote is expected given the etched-in-stone voting tendencies of groups of both Republicans and Democrats at both ends of the voting spectrum. But the net impact of the Foley situation overall is still a negative 25%, based on that 34% say they will be less likely to vote GOP and 9% say they are more likely to vote GOP.

It's also possible that the Republican handling of the Foley situation has become a tipping point of sorts -- not terrible in and of itself -- but rather another indicator for some voters of a desire to shift the incumbent leadership of their Congress.

Survey Methods

The latest results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 6-8, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/24913/Majority-Says-Republican-Leaders-Held-Back-Foley-Political-Reasons.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030