Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
In one of America’s most enduring myths, President George Washington damaged his father’s cherry tree with a hatchet when he was a small child. When his father confronted him, Washington admitted to what he had done, saying “I cannot tell a lie.”
Alas, not all Georges have followed the legendary example of our most famous founding father. Freshman Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has been in the headlines (and on the minds of pollsters) since late December, thanks to intense scrutiny over his fabrication of many parts of his background. Santos was back in the news again this week after he told fellow House Republicans that he would recuse himself from serving on his two assigned committees in the face of ongoing investigations into his personal and campaign finances. Santos’s recusal comes as poll after poll suggests he is an unusually toxic figure — both in his district and more broadly.
Let’s start with the feelings of voters in New York’s 3rd District, Santos’s Long Island-based seat. Two January surveys found that a majority of the voters want him to resign the seat they just elected him to in November. First, Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling surveyed the district in early January on behalf of Unrig Our Economy and found that 60 percent of voters thought Santos should leave office. Then earlier this week, a poll from nonpartisan outfit Siena College on behalf of Newsday found that 78 percent of registered voters in the district wanted Santos to resign. Few polls have ever found such a large share of constituent support for the resignation of a scandalized politician. The Washington Post only found one poll that outdistanced the 78 percent calling for Santos’s resignation: An Ipsos/McClatchy survey from December 2008 that found 95 percent of Illinois adults supported the resignation of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom the Illinois legislature impeached and removed from office the following month.
Santos has said he won’t resign, but polling from his district suggests he’s losing support even among voters from his own party. The earlier poll from PPP found that 38 percent of Republican voters thought Santos should resign. But in the more recent survey from Siena College, 71 percent of Republican voters said the same.
We must be cautious about deciphering trends from two surveys conducted by different pollsters, but it makes sense that more Republicans (and voters overall) now want Santos to resign. The PPP survey predated a Jan. 11 news conference in which Nassau County GOP officials called for Santos to resign, a clear illustration of intraparty opposition to the freshman congressman. And additional scandals involving Santos have surfaced since that presser, including records indicating that Santos’s mother wasn’t in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 — contrary to Santos’s claim that she’d been at the World Trade Center when terrorists attacked.
Santos’s announcement that he wouldn’t serve on his committees followed a meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who must consider how Santos’s myriad problems could affect the House GOP’s image. It’s especially easy to imagine McCarthy wanting Santos to decline his committee assignments in the context of McCarthy’s ongoing efforts to block Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from taking their committee posts — none of whom face criminal charges, unlike Santos. (Republicans removed Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday afternoon.) After all, 40 percent of Americans told YouGov/The Economist in mid-January that Santos should be denied a committee post, the largest percentage among the six representatives the survey asked about.1 And while a large share of respondents were unsure about whether to block representatives’ committee assignment, Santos was the only one of the six whom both Democrats and Republicans were more likely to say shouldn’t be able to serve on a committee than should.
Beyond the committee issue, though, there’s no doubt that Santos’s myriad problems are gaining public notice — and that Santos is unpopular everywhere, not just in his district. In mid-January, about 3 in 5 registered voters across New York state told Siena College that Santos should resign, and majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents held an unfavorable view of him. And Santos’s infamy has made him unusually well-known nationally (as well as unpopular) for a House member who’s only served a month in office. In a YouGov/The Economist survey released last week, 52 percent of Americans held an unfavorable opinion of Santos, compared with only 14 percent who had a favorable opinion, far worse numbers than those for a divisive figure like Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia in recent YouGov/The Economist polling.
It’s impossible to know if the intensely negative views of Santos will eventually precipitate his resignation. Only a two-thirds vote of the House can force him to exit, unless he decides on his own to resign. Given the GOP’s narrow House majority, such a vote is unlikely to happen anytime soon, especially considering Santos occupies a swing seat that Democrats could win in a special election. But the more the public has learned about Santos, the worse his numbers have become. And for better or worse, Santos’s decision to decline his committee assignments will almost certainly not be the last time we hear about him in 2023.
Other polling bites
- Pew Research Center recently found that Democrats are more open to compromise between President Biden and the GOP-led House. Overall, 58 percent of Democrats2 wanted Biden to work with Republican congressional leaders, even if some of the outcomes disappoint Democrats, while 41 percent preferred Biden to stand up to the GOP, even if that created conflict. By comparison, 64 percent of Republicans3 wanted GOP leaders to stand up to Biden, while only 34 percent preferred they work with the president. This isn’t a new pattern, as voters from the party in the White House seem likelier to prefer compromise: Back in 2018, Pew found more Republicans wanted former President Donald Trump to work with Democrats in Congress than not, while more Democrats preferred their congressional leaders stand up to Trump.
- Biden seems increasingly likely to seek a second term as president, and a new poll of Black voters from HIT Strategies found 59 percent backed such a bid. Black voters 50 years or older were more likely to support a Biden reelection campaign (66 percent), though a majority of those under 50 (55 percent) also preferred Biden run again. Black support proved critical for Biden in winning the 2020 Democratic nomination race, and he has pushed for South Carolina, with its majority Black primary electorate, to become the lead-off state in the 2024 Democratic primary.
- Monmouth University took a look at Americans’ attitudes toward current and former U.S. officials’ possession of classified documents, a group that includes Biden, Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. Overall, 80 percent of Americans thought Trump knew he had classified documents in his possession, whereas 58 percent believed Biden knew and 50 percent thought Pence knew. But only about 2 in 5 Americans said the documents in Trump or Biden’s homes would pose a threat to national security (1 in 5 said this of Pence’s documents). Democrats were far more likely to believe the documents in Trump’s possession would endanger national security, while Republicans were much more inclined to say the same of the files in Biden’s home.
- Life satisfaction among Americans remained relatively low at the start of 2023, according to Gallup. Across seven different aspects of U.S. society ranging from the moral and ethical climate to the size and influence of major corporations, an average of 41 percent expressed satisfaction with how things were going. This matched the 2022 average and only slightly exceeded the record low of 39 percent in 2021, the first result in this data set during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Gallup has regularly polled this question in January since 2001.) The average had since 2011 hovered around 50 percent, and had always exceeded 50 percent before the 2008 financial crisis.
- In another January poll, Pew found that a slight majority of Americans remains supportive of providing assistance to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, but an increasing share thinks the U.S. is giving Ukraine too much support. Overall, 31 percent said the U.S. was providing the right amount of support and 20 percent said not enough. But 26 percent said the U.S. was providing too much assistance to Ukraine, an uptick from 20 percent who said the same in September. A plurality of Republicans (40 percent) said the U.S. was giving Ukraine too much support, while a plurality of Democrats (40 percent) said the U.S. was providing the right amount of assistance.
- A new poll from Normington Petts on behalf of Progress Arizona, LUCHA and Replace Sinema PAC suggests independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will face an uphill climb if she seeks reelection in 2024. In one hypothetical matchup, Sinema earned 24 percent of the vote but trailed both Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and Republican Kari Lake, who each attracted 36 percent. In another test, Sinema received 27 percent, but trailed Gallego (37 percent) and former GOP Gov. Doug Ducey (31 percent). Although the poll’s sponsors oppose Sinema, she performed better in this survey than in two previous polls of the Arizona race, which each put her support in the mid-teens in a theoretical three-way contest.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,4 41.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.0 points). At this time last week, 42.0 percent approved and 52.4 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -8.0 points.