PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' opinions of House Speaker John Boehner have improved considerably since last fall, rising a total of 15 percentage points, including eight points since immediately after the midterm elections. Though one in three Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, his ratings are now much more positive than negative, a shift from prior to the election, when they were about equally positive and negative.
The Jan. 14-16 USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Boehner's favorable ratings have improved most among Republicans since October (from 46% to 65%), but are also up significantly among independents (from 23% to 39%) and Democrats (from 15% to 25%).
The improvement in Boehner's ratings is similar to what occurred for Nancy Pelosi when she rose to the speakership after the 2006 elections. In October 2006, Americans were largely divided in their views of her -- 26% favorable and 28% unfavorable. After she became speaker, 44% of Americans viewed her favorably and 22% unfavorably.
Since then, however, Pelosi's ratings have declined significantly. Two months into her speakership, Americans were once again divided in their views of her, and by May 2009, the public began to view her much more negatively than positively. That trend continues today, with 33% viewing the new House minority leader favorably and 54% unfavorably in the new poll.
Newt Gingrich is the other recent member of Congress who became speaker after his party won the majority in midterm elections. Gingrich was largely unknown in October 1994, when he was orchestrating the "Contract With America" to help Republicans win control of Congress. At that time, 19% had a favorable opinion of him, 22% were unfavorable, and 59% did not have an opinion. By the time he became speaker in early 1995, he was better known, but did not receive the same positive response as did Pelosi and Boehner. Though his favorable rating increased 15 points to 34%, his unfavorable rating also rose 15 points to 37%. By March 1995, Americans viewed Gingrich much more negatively (47%) than positively (33%).
Palin's Image Worst Yet, Obama's Improves Slightly
Americans' opinions of three other major political figures -- President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin -- have varied little since last November. However, the current ratings for Palin and Obama are notable.
Palin's 38% favorable rating is her lowest (by two percentage points) since she became a well-known political figure after the 2008 Republican national convention, and her 53% unfavorable rating is her worst by a point. Palin has been a central figure in the recent debate over whether political rhetoric -- including hers -- was partly behind the Tucson shootings. Last week, she responded to these allegations by posting a much-publicized video response on the Internet. The recent news has not done much to change Americans' opinions of Palin, though.
Obama's 53% favorable rating is up slightly from November, after two sub-50% ratings last fall, including a low of 47% as president last October. His all-time high of 78% came just before his inauguration two years ago.
Reid continues to receive much more negative than positive ratings from Americans; his current 25% favorable and 41% unfavorable ratings are essentially unchanged since last fall. Gallup did not measure opinions of Reid when he took over as Senate majority leader in 2007, so it is unclear whether he received an increase in positive ratings similar to Pelosi's at that time.
Americans have once again reacted warmly to a new speaker of the House, with Boehner getting a bump in his favorable ratings and the public now viewing him much more positively than negatively. History suggests the good feelings toward Boehner may not last, as both Pelosi and Gingrich saw their ratings get worse within months of becoming speaker.
At the same time, Palin and Obama, two potential opponents in the 2012 presidential election, are now viewed quite differently by Americans, with Palin generally viewed unfavorably and Obama favorably. Palin's increasingly negative image suggests she would be in a relatively weak position for winning a national election unless opinions of her shift in a more positive direction over the coming year.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 14-16, 2011, with a random sample of 1,032 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.