Post Poll: Pelosi Popularity Declines
By Paul Kane
A month after her showdown with the CIA over interrogation techniques, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) finds herself far less popular than President Obama and the generic brand of the Democratic Party.
Just 38 percent of Americans approve of Pelosi's performance as speaker, while 45 percent disapprove, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll released this evening. That's the lowest approval rating Pelosi has received in the Post/ABC poll, although because of the marathon presidential race last year few national media companies have reliable data for how she fared with voters in 2008.
One clear trend line has emerged in her 2-1/2-year reign as speaker, and that's a slow but steady decline in popularity. Shortly after she became the first female speaker in the nation's history, just 25 percent of respondents disapproved of her, according to a Post-ABC poll in January 2007. Now, almost twice as many people disapprove of her performance.
These numbers present bad news and good news for both Democrats and Republicans.
To Republicans this might justify their two-months-and-counting campaign to brand House Democrats as the Party of Pelosi, particularly after she charged the CIA with lying to her in a September 2002 briefing about which methods they were using against terrorist detainees. CIA documents showed that she was fully informed that agency interrogators were using waterboarding and other harsh methods, while Pelosi countered that they did not tell her that information in an intentional effort to mislead her.
That confrontation resulted in several weeks of difficult stories for Pelosi, which have tapered off since Memorial Day. The Post/ABC poll was conducted last week, so it provides a more measured view of Pelosi's standing than some polls conducted during the heat of the CIA controversy.
Pew released a poll late last week that had fairly similar findings for Pelosi, with her approval rating settling in at 35 percent, with 41 percent of voters disapproving of her performance.
The GOP's House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is expected to continue its effort to tie Democrats to Pelosi, trying to effectively drive a wedge them between the popular Obama and the unpopular Pelosi. However, Republicans would be foolish to ignore how the public image of the national GOP brand.
Jon Cohen, the Post's polling director, notes that the approval for the Republican Party has fallen to 36 percent among voters, while 56 percent of voters disapprove of the national GOP. That contrasts with the Democratic Party, which has a 53-40 rating in terms of favorability to unfavorability. This is bad news for Republicans, because the unpopularity of their brand image has sunk in on just about every issue, even terrorism, which for eight years of the Bush White House was always their strong suit.
In head-to-head matchups, Obama crushes congressional Republicans in terms of whose opinions voters trust: on health care reform, Obama 55 percent, Republicans, 27 percent; on the economy, Obama, 55, Republicans 31; on federal budget deficit, Obama 56, Republicans 30; on the threat of terrorism, Obama 55, Republicans 34.
Faced with such a disparity against Obama, no wonder Republicans are trying to focus on Pelosi. In an interview Friday with Roll Call, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) went so far as to suggest that the entire focus of the 2010 campaign would be about the speaker, right down to the seemingly petty issue of how often she's willing to meet with GOP leaders. "There is clearly an unwillingness this far for the Speaker to engage in any kind of constructive discussions with our side," he told Roll Call. (subscription required)
For now, Pelosi's allies can take heart in the findings among the centrist swing voters who frequently decide most close elections. Among self identified moderates, 43 percent of voters approve of Pelosi's job performance, with 40 percent not approving. What appears to have happened with Pelosi is, she is now viewed almost entirely through a partisan lens -- something Obama has largely floated above almost six months into his presidency, holding a 65 percent approval rating in today's Post/ABC poll.
When those moderate voters were asked to further break themselves down into party identification, the moderate-to-conservative Democrats overwhelmingly approve of Pelosi's performance (63-22). But liberal-to-moderate Republicans have developed an outright hostility toward Pelosi (17-63).
All things considered, however, national GOP strategists should think about this: At her lowest moment, Pelosi is about as popular now as Newt Gingrich was at his MOST popular moment in his speakership. That was in the spring and summer of 1998, when 41 percent of voters approved of Gingrich (R-Ga.) while 44 percent disapproved. Otherwise, during most of his four-year run as speaker, Gingrich drew high disapproval ratings, usually above 50 percent and often above 60 percent.
June 22, 2009; 5:46 PM ET
Categories: Dem. Leaders , House
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