The GOP Leadership Crisis and Public Opinion

In a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, the public’s perception of the Republican Party and its congressional leaders has deteriorated, partly due to a leadership crisis in the House of Representatives. The poll reveals that Republican-aligned Americans are divided on how the GOP should govern, and even though many Americans are dissatisfied with both parties’ handling of the nation’s issues, they still express more confidence in the Republican Party’s leadership in Congress compared to President Joe Biden.

As of the poll, 54% of respondents have more confidence in Republicans in Congress to address major national issues, while 45% have more confidence in President Biden. This balance has remained unchanged since the summer.

Picture: CNN

The removal of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker, which occurred after the poll was conducted, received mixed reactions. Half of Americans approved of McCarthy’s removal, while 49% disapproved. McCarthy himself had a 46% unfavorable view, with 21% having a favorable opinion, and 33% expressing no opinion. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who initiated the motion to remove McCarthy, had an unfavorable rating of 44%, a favorable rating of 14%, and 42% were unsure about him.

Opinions within the Republican camp were divided, with 49% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approving of McCarthy’s removal and 50% disapproving. Furthermore, there was little consensus on whether McCarthy’s removal was a good or bad thing for the party, with 30% considering it a positive development and 34% seeing it as detrimental.

These divisions within the Republican Party are reflected in the party’s presidential nomination contest. Among Republican-aligned voters who support former President Donald Trump, 56% approved of McCarthy’s ouster, compared to only 37% of those who didn’t support Trump in the primary.

This internal division is evident across multiple aspects of the Republican Party’s performance and its future direction. For instance, when asked about Republican leaders in Congress, 51% of Trump supporters approved of their work, compared to just 35% of other Republican-aligned voters. On the question of whether Republicans in Congress should compromise or stand firm on their beliefs, 52% of Trump backers favored standing firm, while 77% of other Republicans preferred working across the aisle.

Even on topics where there is agreement between the two factions, disparities exist. For example, Trump’s supporters are more likely to feel entirely unrepresented by the government, with 57% of Trump primary supporters believing they are not well represented in Washington, compared to 47% of other GOP-aligned voters.

Additionally, they are less likely to consider continued aid to Ukraine as important, with 45% of non-Trump Republican voters deeming it very or somewhat important, compared to 27% of Trump supporters. Trump supporters are also more optimistic about the government reaching an agreement to avoid a shutdown before the November 17 deadline, with 67% of Trump supporters viewing it as likely, as opposed to 57% of other Republicans.

In terms of the 2024 presidential nomination race, Trump has extended his lead, with 58% of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters supporting him. Other candidates, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, garnered less support, each receiving 8% or less in the poll.

Despite these internal party dynamics, the overall public perception of the Republican Party is highly negative. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents disapprove of the way the GOP’s congressional leaders are handling their roles, a notable increase from 67% in January. Furthermore, 52% of respondents have a negative impression of the Republican Party as a whole, an increase from 45% in December. Approval for GOP leadership in Congress has significantly dropped among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, decreasing from 58% in January to 44% at the time of the poll.

The public’s expectations for positive changes resulting from the Republican majority in the House have also diminished. Only 18% of respondents believe there has been a positive effect on the federal budget, 23% on oversight of the Biden administration, 17% on immigration laws, and 16% on the level of cooperation within the federal government. These figures reflect a decrease in optimism since December.

However, the challenges facing the Republican Party have not improved public opinion of Democrats. Just 35% of respondents approve of the way Democratic leaders in Congress are handling their roles, down from 40% in January. Additionally, 50% of respondents have an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party, an increase from 44% in December.

The poll indicates widespread frustration with both political parties, with 58% expressing anger at both parties’ handling of the nation’s problems. Another 15% are only angry at Republicans, and 13% are only angry at Democrats, leaving just 14% who are not angry with either party. Moreover, only 19% feel even somewhat well represented by the federal government in Washington, the lowest percentage in CNN polling since 2015. A substantial 81% now feel they are not represented well by the federal government.

Despite broad preferences for leaders in Congress and the White House to compromise in order to achieve results, 69% of respondents believe it is unlikely that attempts at bipartisanship on upcoming major legislation in Washington will be successful.

Regarding the imminent major legislation to fund the government by November 17, most Americans (57%) believe it is at least somewhat likely that a deal will be reached, with only 10% considering it “very likely.” Additionally, 81% of Americans find it unacceptable for members of Congress to threaten a government shutdown during budget negotiations to achieve their goals, with this sentiment being shared across party lines, including among Democrats (89%), independents (81%), and Republicans (72%).

This CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS from October 4-9 and included a random national sample of 1,255 adults, which also comprised 428 Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters. Surveys were conducted either online or by telephone with a live interviewer. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.4 points, and it is 5.7 points for results among Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

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