skip to main content
U.S. Congressional Leaders Unpopular on Balance

U.S. Congressional Leaders Unpopular on Balance

Story Highlights

  • Pelosi is viewed favorably by 38% of adults, including 72% of Democrats
  • McConnell less popular with 30% overall favorability, 65% of Republicans
  • Prior to partial government shutdown, 18% approved of Congress' job

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the 116th U.S. Congress convenes today, its top leaders face a public that, on balance, holds them in low esteem. Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to be elected speaker of the House for the second time following the Democratic gains in the November midterm elections, is viewed favorably by 38% of Americans and unfavorably by 48%. Her resulting -10 net image rating compares with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's -18 and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer's -8 net ratings.

Bar graphs. Favorability of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell from Dec. 3-12, 2018.

These findings, from a Gallup poll conducted Dec. 3-12, predate the partial government shutdown which began Dec. 22 after Congress and President Donald Trump were unable to come to an agreement to fund the government. The overall job approval rating of Congress in the same poll was 18%, matching its 2018 yearly average.

Of these three current leaders, Pelosi has been tracked the longest by Gallup, since 2003 when she was first elected House Minority Leader. She served as Minority Leader for all years since, except 2007 through 2010 when she was speaker of the Democratic-controlled House. Gallup has measured McConnell's favorability since 2010, three years into his role as Senate Minority Leader, and has measured Schumer's favorability since 2017, a year after he became the Minority Leader in the Senate. Pelosi and McConnell have seen their image ratings fluctuate over time, but Schumer's favorability has held fairly steady the three times it has been measured.

Perhaps a truer test of congressional leaders' popularity is how they are viewed by their own party's faithful, since it is their job to represent their respective parties' constituencies. Of the three, Pelosi is viewed the most favorably by those in her own party with a +53 net image rating among Democrats. McConnell's net favorable rating among Republicans is +46, and Schumer, the least known of the group, has a +33 net rating among Democrats.

Favorability of Congressional Leaders, by Party
Favorable Unfavorable Net favorable
% % pct. pts.
Nancy Pelosi
Republicans 8 84 -76
Independents 31 49 -18
Democrats 72 19 +53
Chuck Schumer
Republicans 14 69 -55
Independents 25 37 -12
Democrats 54 21 +33
Mitch McConnell
Republicans 65 19 +46
Independents 24 44 -20
Democrats 9 75 -66
GALLUP, Dec. 3-12, 2018

Pelosi is the most polarizing leader, receiving both the highest favorable reviews from members of her own party as well as the highest unfavorable reviews from members of the opposing party (-76 net favorable rating). Still, McConnell is viewed almost as negatively as Pelosi by the opposing party with a -66 net image rating among Democrats mainly because Pelosi is better known than McConnell.

Nancy Pelosi's Favorability on the Rise, but Still Relatively Low

Pelosi's latest favorability rating of 38% has risen nine percentage points since the previous measurement last June and is currently higher than the historical average of 33%.

Line graph. Favorability of Nancy Pelosi since Jan. 2003, currently 38% favorable, 48% unfavorable.

Pelosi, who will be the first House speaker to reclaim the position since Samuel Rayburn, in 1955, fought off a potential challenge in November after the Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterm election. A Gallup poll conducted prior to the election, in October, found that 56% of Democrats wanted to see Pelosi replaced should their party win a majority in the House.

Democrats' view of Pelosi improved markedly by December, as her favorability among them rose 17 percentage points from June's reading of 55%. Previous Gallup polling has shown that such an increase is at least in part attributable to the electoral success of the leader's party.

Mitch McConnell's Favorability Also Up, but Still Low

The latest 30% favorable rating of McConnell, who holds the distinction of being the longest-serving Republican Leader in the Senate, is higher than its 25% historical average and is close to the 31% high recorded in March 2010.

Line graph. Favorability of Mitch McConnell since March 2010, currently 30% favorable, 48% unfavorable.

McConnell's overall favorability rose six percentage points since June 2018, largely due to a 17-point increase among his Republican base, perhaps in part a reaction to his party's midterm victories in the Senate.

Paul Ryan Leaves Speakership With Low Favorability Rating

Gallup did not measure opinions of incoming Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy in the December poll. It did, however, measure opinions of outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan's favorability has been measured 12 times by Gallup, including seven times since he reluctantly became House speaker in 2015. Ryan's highest favorability, 48%, was in the wake of the 2016 election when his Republican Party swept both houses of Congress and the presidency. Ryan announced last April that he would not seek re-election to the House.

His latest 34% favorable rating is the lowest of his speakership and below his overall historical average of 39%. It has fallen six percentage points since June 2018, including a 12-point drop among Republicans.

Line graph. Favorability of Paul Ryan, since Aug. 2012, currently 34% favorable, 50% unfavorable.

The trajectory of Ryan's favorable ratings is similar to other recent past speakers who left the speakership viewed more negatively than positively by Americans, much worse off than when they started. For his part, Ryan started his speakership with a net +13 favorable rating and leaves with a net -16 image rating.

Bottom Line

The 116th Congress begins its term amidst a partial government shutdown, the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the continued investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. With Democrats controlling the House and Republicans leading the Senate, the extreme partisan polarization of the last few years shows no signs of relenting.

House Speaker Pelosi is viewed favorably by most Democrats for the time being, but the agenda she pursues and her efficacy at achieving Democratic goals could impact her favorability rating. In the Senate, Republican leader McConnell will face similar pressure from his party. Both leaders will have to work to satisfy all of the factions within their parties in order to maintain high favorability.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030