Negative Attitudes Toward American Leaders Prevail in Every Branch of Government

But Democratic leaders enjoy stronger party support than their Republican counterparts

Nov 23, 2015, 11:02 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Nov. 23, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- With so much of the national news cycle now leaning into 2016 Presidential election coverage – and with coverage of upcoming Congressional bouts sure to join the fray soon enough – it can be hard to believe that we're still nearly a year from "Super Duper Tuesday," and further still from 2016 winners taking their oaths of office. The current inhabitants of the White House still have over a year of governing left on their contract, and a mix of legacy and new leaders in Congress have plenty of work ahead of them while the rest of the country obsesses over Primary season.

So, how are our current leaders doing? Starting with the executive branch, and more specifically in the Oval Office: four in ten (41%) Americans give President Obama positive ratings on his overall job performance while six in ten (59%) rate him negatively – identical to both last month and the month before that, but a marked improvement from a year ago when only 35% rated him positively. Four in ten (40%) also rate him positively for the job he's doing on the economy, on par with recent months but up from 35% a year ago.

  • Over seven in ten Democrats give the President positive ratings both overall (74%) and on the economy (71%), while over two-thirds of Independents (69% and 68%, respectively) and roughly nine in ten Republicans (89% each) rate him negatively.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,232 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 11 and 16, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Elsewhere at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, opinions on Vice President Joe Biden are somewhat divided, with roughly four in ten each giving him positive (39%) and negative (41%) ratings for the job he's doing; an additional two in ten (20%) aren't familiar enough with him to have an opinion. This represents a considerable upward mobility for the Vice President, whose positive ratings were at 30% last year – in fact, these are the highest positive ratings he has received since the administration entered the White House.

Looking at the Secretary of State John Kerry, three in ten Americans (31%) rate him positively for the job he's doing, more than four in ten (42%) rate him negatively, and over one-quarter (27%) are not familiar enough to have an opinion. This is quite similar to July 2014, when 31% gave him positive marks, 44% rated him negatively, and 26% were not familiar with him.

Elsewhere in the capital…

One in ten (10%) Americans have positive attitudes toward the overall job Congress is doing, down slightly from 12% last month but up a bit from last year (8% last October, 7% December). Looking more specifically at how Americans feel toward each party's members of Congress yields mixed results:

  • With two in ten Americans (20%) giving them positive ratings, Democrats in Congress still show room for improvement, but they're better off than either Congress as a whole or their Republican counterparts (13%). Part of this comes down to party support (or lack thereof):
    • More than four in ten Democrats (43%) approve of Democrats in Congress, while three in ten (30%) give them negative ratings.
    • In marked contrast, fewer than here in ten (28%) Republicans give positive ratings to the job Republicans in Congress are doing, while fully half (50%) give them negative marks.

Looking at the leadership in the House of Representatives:

  • Roughly a quarter (24%) of Americans give new House Speaker Paul Ryan positive ratings for the job he's doing thus far, while a third (34%) rate him negatively and over four in ten (42%) aren't familiar enough with him to give an assessment.
  • About two in ten (19%) Americans give House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi positive ratings (on par with 18% last year), while just under half (47%) rate her negatively and a third (34%) aren't familiar enough with her to say.
    • While both Ryan and Pelosi have their detractors, both have support among their parties. A 43% plurality of Republicans rates Ryan positively, while roughly one-fourth (24%) rate him negatively. Similarly, a 39% plurality among Democrats gives Pelosi positive ratings while 24% rate her negatively.
  • Absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder, as positive ratings for former House Speaker John Boehner – who left the role at the end of October – have risen to 17% (from 13% in July 2014). They're still outweighed, though, by the negative marks he gets from roughly half of Americans (49%).
    • While Ryan and Pelosi both show plurality support among their parties, Boehner can't say the same as the 46% of Republicans giving him negative ratings are nearly double the 25% giving him positive marks.

Over in the other chamber of Congress, the news isn't much better for Senate leaders. While it's important to note that half or more Americans aren't familiar enough to have an opinion of either Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (55%) or Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (50%), their respective negative marks (38% for McConnell, 37% for Reid) still exponentially outweighing their positive ratings (7% and 12%, respectively).

  • Minority leader Reid's positive marks among Democrats (23%) do narrowly surpass negative ratings (19%). No such luck for McConnell: the 42% of Republicans rating him negatively is more than three times as robust the 12% giving him positive marks. In fact, Republicans are more likely than Democrats (34%) to give McConnell negative ratings.

Meanwhile, down at the other end of the National Mall, nearly six in ten Americans (57%) say they're not familiar enough with Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court to rate him. However, the quarter of Americans (26%) giving him negative ratings does cast a shadow over the 16% giving him positive marks.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between November 11 and 16, 2015 among 2,232 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #75, November 23, 2015
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll® 
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world.  The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public.  New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly.  For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit us at

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