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Americans Mixed on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Americans Mixed on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Rex Tillerson's 36% favorable rating similar to his 33% unfavorable
  • 30% have no opinion of the new secretary of state
  • Republicans (71%) view Tillerson most favorably

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Recently confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson starts his tenure as the top U.S. diplomat with Americans viewing him about as favorably (36%) as unfavorably (33%). Nearly as many are unfamiliar with him (30%). Republicans view him positively overall, while Democrats are negative.

Favorable Ratings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by Party
  Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
  % % %
National adults 36 33 30
Republicans 71 5 25
Independents 27 35 38
Democrats 15 59 26
Gallup, Feb. 1-5, 2017

Gallup's first measure of Tillerson's favorability was recorded Feb. 1-5, in the days after his 56-43 confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 1.

The former ExxonMobil CEO's confirmation was secured with fewer votes than most of his fellow Cabinet members have received to date, and was dogged by concerns about potential conflicts of interest and his record on the environment. Tillerson has also been criticized for his relationship with Russian energy companies and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ultimately, he was supported by three Democratic senators and one independent, as well as all Republicans voting.

Tillerson spent his first week as secretary of state attempting to ease tensions with several foreign leaders whom President Donald Trump has sparred with in his first weeks in office.

About seven in 10 Republicans (71%) have a positive view of Tillerson -- much higher than his favorable ratings among independents (27%) and Democrats (15%). Democrats' opinions are strongly negative, while independents' views tilt negative.

Tillerson's Favorable Falls Short of Ratings of Past Four Secretaries of State

Tillerson's fairly high "no opinion" rating gives room for his ratings to improve or worsen as Americans become more familiar with him.

But his favorable rating already falls short of those of the past four secretaries of state when they were in the nomination or immediate post-confirmation stage of their job. Tillerson's favorable rating matches Madeleine Albright's in 1997 -- though twice as many Americans were unfamiliar with Albright in the weeks before she assumed the role as they are now with Tillerson. This allowed Albright's favorable rating to nearly double in the year after her confirmation -- a feat that would be difficult for Tillerson, based on where he is starting off with Americans.

Among more recent secretaries of state, Colin Powell in late 2000 (83%) and Hillary Clinton in January 2009 (65%) were viewed mostly positively. Both were also highly familiar to the public before their nominations and enjoyed solid favorable ratings. In early 2005, a majority of Americans (59%) viewed Condoleezza Rice positively in a poll conducted in the first two weeks after her confirmation.

John Kerry's ratings were a bit more tepid than those of his three immediate predecessors, with 44% of Americans viewing him favorably in the early months after his confirmation in 2013. At 21%, Kerry's unfamiliarity was relatively high, especially given that he had run as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.


Favorable Ratings of Incoming Secretaries of State, 1993-2017
  Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
  % % %
Rex Tillerson (February 2017) 36 33 30
John Kerry (April 2013) 44 35 21
Hillary Clinton (January 2009) 65 33 3
Condoleezza Rice (February 2005) 59 27 14
Colin Powell (December 2000) 83 6 11
Madeleine Albright (January 1997) 36 5 59

Tillerson's Rating Among His Own Party Is Average for a Secretary of State

While his favorable ratings may not be as positive as his immediate predecessors', Tillerson's 71% favorability among his own party is about at the 74% average for incoming secretaries of state whom Gallup has measured over the years.

Tillerson is less popular among Republicans than Powell (91%) and Rice (81%) were, or than Clinton (93%) was with Democrats. But Tillerson's favorability among Republicans exceeds Kerry's 66% and Albright's 41% among Democrats, though Albright was still largely unknown at the time.

Favorable Ratings of Incoming Secretaries of State
  Republicans Independents Democrats
  % % %
Rex Tillerson 71 27 15
John Kerry 27 38 66
Hillary Clinton 35 61 93
Condoleezza Rice 81 52 37
Colin Powell 91 80 80
Madeleine Albright 34 33 41

Bottom Line

Tillerson isn't the only member of Trump's orbit whose favorable ratings are balanced out by their unfavorables. But Americans' greater unfamiliarity with the 69th secretary of state gives him a better shot of seeing his favorables improve.

The favorability ratings of most recent secretaries of state haven't varied much over their terms in the office and have typically remained within a single-digit range. Kerry is an exception to this, as his 55% rating in 2014 -- his highest -- was an outlier from the 41% to 48% favorability he received throughout the rest of his time in the role.

The most optimal course for Tillerson's favorability would be the same as Albright's -- not very well known when confirmed, but consistently liked by a majority of Americans once she got to work. But Albright's unfamiliarity was twice as high Tillerson's, her initial unfavorable ratings were much lower and views of her were far less polarized along party lines than Tillerson's are, making it much less likely that his favorability will experience the same trajectory.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 1-5, 2017, with a random sample of 1,035 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 70% cellphone respondents and 30% 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 the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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