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Republicans dislike their congressional leaders. Democrats like theirs.

The Republicans' drama in Congress accurately reflects their constituents' opinions.

- October 5, 2023
Images left to right: (cc) Hakeem Jeffries, Adam Schultz, official White House photo; Kevin McCarthy, Matt Johnson/Right Cheer; Mitch McConnell, Gage Skidmore; Chuck Schumer, Gregory Hauenstein.

Republican voters’ views of their party’s congressional leaders reflect the same partisan infighting that made Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the first speaker of the House to ever be voted out of office. In fact, McCarthy is actually much more popular among the House Republican caucus than he is with rank-and-file GOP voters.

The graph above, for instance, shows that McCarthy was voted out at the low point in his popularity as speaker among Republican registered voters nationwide. At the time of the vote, just 43% of U.S. Republicans in Civiqs’ daily tracking poll had a favorable view of McCarthy, while 27% rated him unfavorably. 

Yet, McCarthy still isn’t nearly as unpopular among voters from his own party as Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was during his final months as House speaker. You can see in the next graph from Civiqs that Ryan left office in January 2019 with a -24% net favorability (favorable minus unfavorable) rating among Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, is even less popular with Republicans now than Ryan was at his nadir. After reaching record levels of GOP support as Senate majority leader in 2020, McConnell saw his popularity fall off a cliff during the transition between the election and the 2021 inauguration, when he recognized Biden as president-elect and then harshly criticized then-Pres. Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. McConnell’s GOP support never recovered. He’s currently viewed unfavorably by two-thirds of Republicans nationwide, according to Civiqs

The volatility displayed in those three graphs is particularly striking. Republicans’ support for their party’s leaders shifts rather dramatically depending on the news cycle. It increases when they deliver partisan victories, such as the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for Ryan and the 2018 and 2020 Supreme Court confirmations of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett for McConnell. It declines when they compromise with Democrats and/or draw Trump’s ire. You can see in the first graph that McCarthy’s popularity began to erode in late spring after his debt ceiling deal with Pres. Biden.

The volatility and unpopularity in Republicans’ views of McCarthy, Ryan, and McConnell contrast starkly with Democratic voters’ strong and steady support for their party’s recent congressional leaders. The next graph shows that Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) net favorability rating among Democrats has been quite stable since he became the Senate’s majority leader in January 2021, ranging between +53 and +61.

Likewise, this final graph from Civiqs shows that Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was consistently popular among Democrats during her final years as speaker of the House. From the start of 2021 through the end of 2022, her net favorability rating among Democrats always fell somewhere between the high 50s and the high 60s. 

The current Democratic leader in the House, Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), is not nearly as well-known as Pelosi and Schumer, and Civiqs has not included him in its daily tracking polls. But Jeffries is similarly popular among Democrats who have formed an impression of him. The House minority leader was rated favorably by 48% of Democrats in the latest YouGov-Economist Poll, compared to only 8% who rated him unfavorably. 

The data and graphs in this piece, therefore, clearly invert the old cliché in U.S. politics, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.” Instead, as Ezra Klein put it back in January, it now appears that “Democrats fall in line and Republicans fall apart.”