Washington

McCarthy Bounces Back With GOP Base After Recording Leaks Prompt Downturn in Popularity

40% of GOP voters hold favorable views of McCarthy, in line with his standing before tapes revealed him expressing anti-Trump views

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) talks to reporters during his weekly news conference on March 18.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The release of audio recordings that proved House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had indicated he was ready to cut bait with former President Donald Trump in January 2021 caused a sharp decline in the California Republican’s standing among the party’s base nationwide. But Morning Consult/Politico tracking surveys show the man who’s been widely viewed as the speaker-in-waiting is already seeing positive sentiment back on the rise.

Trend line charts showing Kevin McCarthy's favorability among GOP voters returning to pre-leak levels as of May 2 2022
What voters think of Kevin McCarthy
  • Two in 5 Republican voters view McCarthy favorably, roughly matching his standing in three Morning Consult/Politico surveys conducted before The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns released an audio tape recorded after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack that featured McCarthy’s stated plans to personally call on Trump to resign.
  • The April 22 release of the tape, which followed McCarthy’s comprehensive denial that he’d telegraphed plans to break with Trump, appears to have prompted an uptick in negativity toward the House leader: The latest survey found 28% of Republican voters view McCarthy unfavorably, up from 22% before the book’s revelations.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of all voters view McCarthy favorably, up from 19 percent in late March, while 41% have an unfavorable view, unchanged over the time frame.
Why it matters

The fleeting nature of GOP voters’ backlash to McCarthy’s recorded statements are likely reflective of the muted response from the GOP officials who control his fate as leader. 

Trump, the most popular Republican among the party’s voters, has declined to criticize McCarthy, who initially distanced himself from the former president following the Capitol attack only to decamp weeks later to Mar a Lago to patch things up. Plus, only a handful of Republican lawmakers — far-right figures such as Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida or Andy Biggs of Arizona — have attacked McCarthy, while more influential members, such as Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have reiterated their support for him.

As Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told Politico, “it’s all inside baseball,” adding that, “not a single constituent brought up that issue to me.”

While it is true that few Republican voters are paying close attention to the story, it didn’t totally fly under the radar.

GOP voters’ awareness of McCarthy’s issues
  • Another Morning Consult survey conducted as the initial tape recording emerged found that 21% of Republican voters said they had seen, read or heard something “mainly negative” in the news about McCarthy, up from 13% the prior week.
  • Like most mainstream news stories, particularly those critical of Republicans, the latest survey found Democratic voters are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say they’d heard “a lot” about the Trump-related tape, 26% to 12%, lending credence to Davis’ point.
  • In a previous survey, even fewer voters (16% of Democrats and 9% of Republicans) said they heard a lot about Martin’s and Burns’ report that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Trump an expletive and accused him of committing an impeachable offense immediately after the Jan. 6 attack. Two in 5 Republican voters hold favorable views of him and just as many disfavor him, which are within the margin of error of his popularity at the beginning of April.

The latest survey was conducted April 29-May 2, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,000 registered U.S. voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult