Is Pelosi as Unpopular as CW Says She Is?
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 04:11:42 AM EDT
The short answer is no. And that answer has been the same for years.
I remember the 2006 cycle. The common wisdom inside the Beltway said that although the Democrats had a shot at retaking the House of Representatives, their leader Nancy Pelosi was too liberal and too divisive for the country, and would thus serve as a drag on her party's chances. Republicans even ran ads to this effect, trying to hit Democratic candidates in competitive districts for being too much like Nancy Pelosi. But as I predicted at the time, the tactic didn't work at all.
Looking back, too, at the past cycle, I remember how Republicans tried to make the three special elections in Republican-held districts about Nancy Pelosi. As I said after one of them, even in districts where Republicans were supposed to win, the tactic of tying Democratic candidates to Nancy Pelosi was simply not effective.
Republicans, of course, have not learned the lesson and still hold out hope that the Speaker is their magic bullet, that somehow after two cycles of the tactic being ineffective it will begin to work. But looking through the current polling, I remain skeptical.
No doubt, Nancy Pelosi is not a particularly popular figure in American politics. Her approval and favorability ratings sit in or around the 30s. She is no Barack Obama. But that's intentional. The Speaker is playing her role, serving in a way as the bad cop to the President's good cop (in the sense that Barack Obama continues to run against Congress and the status quo in Washington as President, just as he did as candidate). And inasmuch as Pelosi is a sort of lightning rod for discontent with the administration and the Democrats more broadly, she is not particularly unpopular.
Take a look at the numbers. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 38 percent approving of Pelosi's job as Speaker and 45 percent voicing disapproval -- not great numbers, but also not terrible numbers. Indeed, they are better than most of the polls on Newt Gingrich during his time as Speaker, when his disapproval rating consistently stood above 50 percent, reaching as high as 65 percent in ABC/WaPo polling and 62 percent in Gallup polling. No survey, with the exception of the unevenly weighted Harris poll (which lumps the ambivalent rating of "fair" into the disapproval column), has shown Pelosi's disapproval rating to top 50 percent. Looking, too, at favorability numbers, for every survey that shows Pelosi with an unfavorable rating above 50 percent (at times a factor of respondents being pushed into delineating an opinion they do not strongly hold) there is a survey, like the most recent one from Pew, showing Pelosi's unfavorable number to be just 41 percent.
The common wisdom is wrong about Nancy Pelosi, just as it has been for at least three years. While she isn't a tremendously popular political figure, she is not nearly as unpopular as she is made out to be within Beltway circles -- and certainly not such an unpopular figure as to serve as a significant drag on her party.