Few political figures in American public life can boast the staying power of Nancy Pelosi. A key member of the House Democratic caucus for well over a decade and a member of the House for three, Pelosi made history as the first woman House Minority Whip and later the first woman Speaker of the House. Furthermore, she is lauded by Democrats for her fundraising prowess. What’s perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Pelosi has achieved this staying power while arguably being one of the most disliked political personalities in public life.
CNN’s most recent national poll (September 17-20, 2017) pegs Pelosi’s favorability rating at a near-record low of 29%, with 50% unfavorability – a twenty-one point deficit. The only image read worse than this one came, not surprisingly, in late October 2010, just before the Republican wipeout in November of that year, when Pelosi’s image stood at 26% favorable/53% unfavorable. NBC-WSJ survey data from October 2010 also confirms Pelosi’s status as a drag on her party, as a whopping 61% of Independents expressed a negative opinion of her at that time.
Antipathy toward Pelosi was not always a given, however: even as she vociferously campaigned against the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War to national prominence in 2006, her image was still a net positive at 35% favorable/26% unfavorable (October 2006). What is clear, though, is that as more Americans come to know Pelosi, the less they like her. Her name ID in the aforementioned survey was just 71%; today, it is 89%. Indeed, since Pelosi became Speaker and was thus cemented as a dominant, well-known force in American politics, the best image she’s enjoyed has been +2 (39% favorable/37% unfavorable) in January 2009 – the then-promising threshold of the Obama years. Since the January 2009 read, her unfavorables have never dipped below 40% and have averaged 48.5% (using CNN trend data).
A cursory look at the current CNN crosstabs ought to raise red flags, too. Even among Democrats – yes, Democrats – Pelosi’s image is just +11 at 44% favorable/33% unfavorable. That’s, uh, terrible. Among Independent voters, her image is -21 at 27% favorable/48% unfavorable. Again, that’s abysmal. And, among a key demographic among whom Pelosi ought to be a rock star (survey respondents who disapprove of President Trump’s job performance), Pelosi’s image sits at just +7 (41% favorable/34% unfavorable). Perhaps it’s no wonder that fellow Democratic lawmakers have publicly called for Pelosi’s ouster from the House Democratic leadership.
Perhaps not surprisingly given her perennially poor image ratings, Nancy Pelosi has been helping Republicans win congressional campaigns for nearly a decade, as Republican campaigns have successfully tied her to their Democratic opponents. Case in point: in the recent special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, Democrat Jon Ossoff was successfully tarred with Pelosi and her liberal values. A survey conducted by POS partner Gene Ulm in April put her image at a toxic 35% favorable/52% unfavorable in the district; Ossoff went on to lose the election.
Pelosi’s current image data portends further potential electoral consequences for Democrats. As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Republican campaigns will likely continue to take advantage of the gift who has kept on giving election cycle after election cycle: the thoroughly disliked Nancy Pelosi, “Appearing soon in a political advertisement near you!”