The American public has taken its first long look at new House Speaker John Boehner — and so far, they like what they see. Gallup shows a sudden and significant rise in approval for the Republican leader after nearly two years of diffidence, a trend that started just before the midterms. Now his approval nearly doubles his disapproval, which is exactly what happened at first with his predecessor:
Americans’ opinions of House Speaker John Boehner have improved considerably since last fall, rising a total of 15 percentage points, including eight points since immediately after the midterm elections. Though one in three Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, his ratings are now much more positive than negative, a shift from prior to the election, when they were about equally positive and negative. …
The improvement in Boehner’s ratings is similar to what occurred for Nancy Pelosi when she rose to the speakership after the 2006 elections. In October 2006, Americans were largely divided in their views of her — 26% favorable and 28% unfavorable. After she became speaker, 44% of Americans viewed her favorably and 22% unfavorably.
Of course, that isn’t how it ended for Pelosi. At the midterms, Pelosi hit her nadir at 29/55, which has only slightly mitigated since to 33/54. Her bump in approval dissipated almost immediately after taking the gavel; it didn’t last out the spring of 2007. Instead, it went back to the all-but-even level until Barack Obama took office and Pelosi took control of the agenda. Within six months, her approval ratings fell to 34/50 and have never recovered since.
Meanwhile, Gallup has some good news for Obama. His approval ratings have bumped back up over the 50% mark to 53%, with 45% disapproving. In October, Obama has scored a 47/50, the worst from Gallup in his term. Voters are almost certainly reacting to the Tucson speech, but the bump comes at a good time for the President as he wades back into policy debates with Boehner and the rest of the GOP on Capitol Hill.
What lessons can Boehner take from these results? He has a window in which to explain to an electorate open to his arguments the reasons and necessity of the Republican agenda on fiscal responsibility and the need for limited government. History shows that window will be narrow, and will close as Speakers have to conduct business in the House. He may be able to extend that window by avoiding the nasty, partisan tone Pelosi adopted almost immediately as Speaker, but the necessity of battling Democrats on floor maneuvers makes that a difficult proposition. Boehner’s pledge for openness will, if adopted, help expose the nature of partisanship in the legislature, which could help him expand support rather than opposition. Right now, it looks as if most people blame Pelosi for the partisan games, and with Democrats choosing to continue her leadership, she makes a pretty good foil for Boehner.