Just the Facts

Five Facts on the Approval Ratings of Speakers of the House

By Emma Petasis
June 1, 2018 | Blog

Few roles in American politics are as heavily scrutinized as that of speaker of the House of Representatives.  The speaker is not only the leader of the House, where he or she exercises immense power over all facets of the institution, but is also second in line to the presidency, behind only the vice president.  With this impressive level of power comes intense levels of scrutiny that can breed discontent.  Here is a review of five notable speakers and their approval ratings.

1. Speaker Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan (R-WI) started his tenure as speaker in October of 2015 with a net favorability rating of +9%, but by the time he announced his retirement in April 2018, it had fallen to-23%.  While Ryan was unsuccessful in his attempts to revamp health care, Ryan was able to pass sweeping tax reforms, which had been one of his primary goals since entering the House in 1999.

2. Speaker John Boehner

John Boehner (R-OH) served as speaker from January 5, 2011 until his resignation on October 29, 2015.  At the outset of his tenure, he had a net approval rating of +20%. However, operating in a divided government for his entire tenure, he faced increasing pressure from a faction of hardline congressional Republicans to obstruct President Obama’s legislative agenda.  Due to the building tension within his own party, Boehner resigned as the least popular speaker in three decades– with a net approval rating of -31%.

3. Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made history as the first female speaker of the House, serving from January 2007 until January 2011.  While she currently represents much of San Francisco, Pelosi is originally from Maryland. In the 1960s, she worked as an intern with her current deputy in the House, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and for former Sen. Daniel Brewster (D-MD).  Unfortunately for Pelosi, her long career in politics did not help her avoid the approval ratings fate of other speakers. She assumed the role with a net favorability rating of -6%, but after the midterm elections of 2010, which saw the Democrats lose their majority in the House, it dropped to -28%.

4. Speaker Newt Gingrich

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) served as speaker of the House from January 1995 until his retirement in January 1999. He assumed the speakership with a net approval rating of +4% and brought with him the Contract with America: a detailed plan of his caucus’ legislative agenda. He was successful in implementing the majority of his contract but retired four years later with a net approval rating of -13% .

5. Speaker Tom Foley

The last speaker to leave his post with a positive approval rating was Tom Foley (D-WA), who retired in 1995 with a rating of +3%—still down 14 percentage points from when he was elected six years prior. Despite his positive approval rating, Foley lost re-election to his House seat in 1994. He became 1 of only 3 speakers to do so— the last time being over 100 years ago.



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