Washington

Kevin McCarthy’s Image Among Voters Deteriorates After Speakership Fight

49% of voters hold negative opinions of the California Republican, up from 43% the previous week

Newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) holds the gavel after he was elected on the 15th ballot early Jan. 7. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

California Republican Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to the speakership has dragged down his popularity as he’s been introduced in recent weeks to a larger swath of the electorate, but Morning Consult tracking surveys show the latest tumult has yet to weigh on perceptions of the wider Republican membership on Capitol Hill.

political intelligence
McCarthy’s Popularity Takes a Hit Amid Speakership Ascent

Net favorability* rating…

*Net favorability is the share of voters with favorable views minus the share with unfavorable views.
Weekly surveys conducted among representative samples of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points.

How voters view Kevin McCarthy

  • Nearly half of voters (49%) hold unfavorable views of McCarthy, up from 43% in a survey conducted before the House’s four-day fight over his speakership. Among Republicans, the share with negative opinions about the California Republican increased from 29% to 35% over the same time period, though 41% still view him favorably.
  • The latest shift comes as McCarthy has seen his name recognition grow since Republicans won the House. The latest survey showed 72% of voters have an opinion about him, up from 58% just after the midterm elections. 
  • The ruckus on the House floor has done little to impact voters’ already negative perceptions of Republicans in Congress. The majority of voters (53%) hold unfavorable views of the congressional GOP while 38% view them favorably, both in line with figures in near-weekly surveys conducted since late September.

How McCarthy’s standing could weigh on his speakership

The Jan. 5-8 survey, conducted as the House narrowly elected McCarthy speaker after days of a messy and highly public airing of grievances by conservative detractors, shows Washington’s top Republican is a fairly divisive figure among the party’s base, though he is more popular than the other chamber’s leading Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. 

McCarthy’s middling popularity leaves little public incentive for Republican lawmakers who hail from safe districts to stand by him should he cross them, and the lack of awareness from roughly a quarter of the party’s base leaves ample opportunity for his detractors to define him in a negative light. 

While the long-term impact of public opinion on McCarthy’s speakership will come into fuller view as he engages in what’s expected to be a fierce fight over raising the debt limit later this year, the latest survey does reveal that last week’s episode on the House floor did seep into the public’s consciousness — to poor effect. 

political intelligence
Congressional Republicans Face Surge of Bad Buzz as GOP Takes Control of House

Share of voters who said they had seen, read or heard something positive or negative about the following over the past week:

Weekly surveys conducted among representative samples of roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points.

The speaker fight’s impact on buzz

  • Nearly half of voters (46%) said they had seen, read or heard something “mainly negative” over the past week about Republicans in Congress, similar to the level of negative awareness in June that followed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and in July amid revelations by the House’s Jan. 6 committee. 
  • When it came to McCarthy, 43% of voters said they’d recently heard negative news, up from 25% the previous week and higher than any other time since Morning Consult began regularly tracking buzz early last year. 
  • Republican voters were about as likely to say they heard mostly positive news about the congressional GOP (36%) as they were to report hearing something negative about McCarthy (38%). 

The latest Morning Consult survey was conducted Jan. 5-8, 2023, among a representative sample of 1,977 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.