It’s also lower than Trump’s, notes WaPo’s Amber Phillips. Trump is at 39 percent in this poll, a dismal number for a president at any stage but especially during what’s supposed to be his “honeymoon period” with voters. And still, he’s fully 10 points better than Ryan.
How many different contributing factors are there for Ryan’s garbage numbers? I can think of at least four.
His approval rating isn’t wildly different from Boehner’s or Pelosi’s. His disapproval rating, though? Hoo boy. Contributing factor one: He was, of course, the quarterback for the GOP’s much-hated health-care bill, which was polling at a breezy 17 percent approval right before it went down in flames. That was a double whammy for Ryan, evidence that not only couldn’t he concoct a broadly popular plan, he couldn’t even succeed where Democrats had succeeded by getting it through the House. After that, the question isn’t so much why 54 percent disapprove of him, it’s why 29 percent approve.
Contributing factor two: Unlike the other three former Speakers listed, Ryan’s a former VP nominee. The bigger a politician’s national profile, the stronger partisan feelings about him are likely to run. On top of that, Ryan distinguished himself in Congress as an ideologue among ideologues, a guy so frantic to address America’s debt crisis that he was willing to not only touch the third rail of entitlement reform, he was willing to be the face of it in D.C. The more a pol is thought of as an ideological warrior, the more likely it is that voters, who normally don’t pay much attention to individual congressmen, are likely to have an opinion about him. Case in point: Newt, leader of the 1994 Republican revolution, had more robust approval and disapproval ratings than either Pelosi or Boehner.
Contributing factor three: Unlike Newt, Ryan is dealing with a divided party, one whose populist-nationalist wing regards him as little better than a Democrat. That’s the secret ingredient to his low approval rating. Where Gingrich and even Boehner could count on solid support from within their own parties, Ryan’s position is more complicated. Gingrich polled at 62/23 among Republicans in 1995, a net approval of +39. Boehner polled at 54/19 in 2011 for a comparable +35. Ryan polls at … 51/31, a +20 net. In fairness, given the party’s establishment/populist and globalist/nationalist splits, it may be that any Republican Speaker these days would be doomed to start lower than Gingrich or Boehner. (Although Boehner came to be loathed by the right-wing grassroots too, his ascendancy to the Speakership in 2011 coincided with the GOP taking back the House after four years out of power, exuberance over which likely boosted his ratings.) But because Ryan is a lightning rod for populists, he likely starts even worse than a generic Republican would.
Contributing factor four: Cliche though it may be, we live in an age of high political polarization. A Republican as prominent as Ryan would have been a hate object for the left no matter what, but toss in his Romney pedigree and his Medicare-cutting ambitions and he’s doomed to pitiful numbers among Democrats. Newt Gingrich was the most famous Republican in America during the eight years between Bush 41 and Bush 43, and even Newt polled higher among Dems in 1995 than Ryan does now: Gingrich pulled a 27/61 rating versus a brutal 13/75 for Ryan. Trump’s phenomenal unpopularity among Democrats is probably also connected here, either as cause (dragging down the party) or effect (hatred for all things Republican). If you can believe it, Trump polls at just seven percent with Democratic voters; to put that in perspective, the next-lowest number among voters from the minority party for any president in April of his first year dating back to Reagan is 24 percent, which Republicans gave to Bill Clinton in 1993. We’ve never seen a modern president as roundly hated by the opposition so early as Trump is by Dems right now. There’s surely spillover from that into Ryan’s ratings too, especially given their high-profile collaboration on health care.