PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are just as likely to say they have an unfavorable as a favorable opinion of Speaker of the House John Boehner. This is a significant shift from January, shortly after Boehner took over as speaker, when his positive rating was nearly twice as high as his negative rating.
Americans' views of Boehner were closely divided in four Gallup measurements from July 2009 to October 2010, with substantial proportions not having an opinion of him in either direction. After the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in last fall's midterm elections, his favorable ratings rose and his unfavorable ratings declined in two successive measurements, in November and January. Now, the April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll finds the speaker's ratings returning to about equally positive and negative. This is what they have been for most of his time as the top Republican in the House of Representatives, though more have an opinion of him now than did so in earlier measurements.
Boehner's Image Declines Across All Parties
Since January, Boehner's image has declined among all party groups, with proportionately greater change among independents. His favorable rating is down 10 points among independents and his unfavorable rating is up 17 points, shifting his net favorable score from +16 to -11.
Republicans are less positive toward Boehner now than in January, but still widely view him favorably. Democrats' opinions were more negative than positive in January, but have moved further in that direction in the most recent measure.
The change in Americans' opinions of Boehner likely reflects the reality of his role in the political process as the president and Congress try to come to agreement on issues. The challenging environment for Boehner is greater given divided control of government, and his leadership role in the House of Representatives at a time when approval ratings of Congress as an institution are generally low.
The trend in Boehner's ratings this year is similar to what Gallup measured for Nancy Pelosi after she became speaker in 2007. Her favorable ratings increased in her first month in that position, but within two months had declined to the point that she was viewed about as negatively as positively. Over time, Americans became increasingly negative toward Pelosi and now generally view her much more negatively than positively.
Americans tend to view political figures more positively as they assume leadership positions in government. This phenomenon, known as the honeymoon period, has long been apparent in ratings of presidents, and Gallup now observes this to be true for the two most recent speakers of the House.
But as politicians get into their work and are forced to make decisions that are pleasing to some but not others, their popularity generally fades quickly. From that perspective, the rise and fall in Boehner's favorable ratings in recent months is not unexpected.
Though Boehner's image is now much less positive than it was just three months ago, it compares favorably to ratings of recent speakers. Of the four most recent people to hold this position, only Dennis Hastert was generally viewed more positively than negatively by Americans for most of his tenure, perhaps because of his lower profile, relatively higher ratings of Congress overall, and being able to work with a president of his own party for most of his time as speaker. Pelosi and Newt Gingrich were more prominent figures who had to work with presidents of the other party for much or all of their speakership, and Americans generally viewed them more negatively than positively during that time.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 20-23, 2011, with a random sample of 1,013 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, 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.