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Republican Voters Say They Don’t Mind Trump Critics, But Liz Cheney’s Ouster Says Otherwise

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

On Wednesday, House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as conference chair, the party’s third-ranking position in the House. Her main offense is well-established at this point: Cheney repeatedly refused to stand by former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest, openly criticizing him and drawing the ire of her GOP colleagues in the process.

Her ouster is notable, too, in that it is the highest-profile example to date of how expressing public opposition to Trump is disqualifying within GOP ranks, despite what Republicans may say otherwise. 

Consider that 71 percent of Republicans told Pew Research Center in March that the GOP should accept elected Republicans who disagree with the party on some issues, with 43 percent saying the same of Republicans who openly criticize Trump. And a new Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 61 percent of Republicans felt the party would be stronger if it embraced both Trump supporters and Trump critics.

Yet this sentiment hasn’t really applied to GOP politicians who have been critical of Trump, like Cheney or Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Nearly every Republican who voted to impeach Trump — including Cheney — has been admonished by the party and has attracted at least one primary challenger.

If Rep. Liz Cheney doesn’t have a home in the GOP, who does?

This is, in part, because Trump remains immensely popular with the Republican base, as two polls released on Wednesday show: Politico/Morning Consult found that 82 percent of Republican voters held favorable views of Trump, while 77 percent of Republican adults told The Economist/YouGov the same thing. His false claims that the election was stolen from him is popular among Republican voters, too. Recent surveys show around 7 in 10 Republicans still believe that President Biden didn’t legitimately defeat Trump last November.

Cheney may have maintained her leadership position had she dialed back her criticism of Trump. After all, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy supported her ahead of a February attempt to oust her, and that vote failed by more than a 2-to-1 margin. But Cheney’s ejection is also illustrative of how little ideology in the party matters compared with loyalty to Trump. 

An orange background with a cartoon head and a wordbubble that reads: “This is the GOP further refining and crystallizing itself into the purest possible form of a Trumpist party.”

related: What Liz Cheney’s Ousting Says About The GOP Read more. »

Take the vote to fill Cheney’s old spot in the party leadership, which is expected to happen Friday. Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise have backed New York Rep. Elise Stefanik to fill the post even though her voting record is more liberal than 98 percent of other House Republicans, according to Voteview, and she voted with Trump less often than most in her caucus, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score. By comparison, Cheney’s voting record is about smack dab in the middle of her caucus, as you might expect of someone in leadership, and she voted with Trump 93 percent of the time. But this doesn’t matter as much as Stefanik’s public loyalty to the former president. She vociferously defended him during his first impeachment trial and has echoed his false claims about the 2020 election. This is not to say that ideology is unimportant. GOP Rep. Chip Roy of Texas has criticized Stefanik for being insufficiently conservative and looks set to mount a bid against her to become conference chair.

Anti-Trump attitudes seem to override most other political considerations among Republican voters, too. For instance, despite Cheney’s conservatism and longstanding commitment to the GOP, the Economist/YouGov survey found that only 20 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of her versus 58 percent who held an unfavorable view. Politico/Morning Consult found that only 14 percent of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of Cheney compared with 43 percent with an unfavorable view of her — in addition, 50 percent of GOP voters supported her ouster, while just 18 percent wanted to keep her in leadership.

Cheney’s standing in Republican circles used to be firmly rooted — she was once viewed as a potential future speaker of the House — but her downfall is the latest evidence that loyalty to Trump is the defining characteristic of today’s Republican Party. Because of her opposition to him, Cheney may find herself in the political wilderness.

Other polling bites

  • A new poll from the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, found more opposition than support for the recall of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. The referendum is still likely to happen because the recall campaign has far more petition signatures than required, but only 36 percent of California registered voters said they supported recalling Newsom; 49 percent opposed the move. This falls largely in line with the findings of recent nonpartisan polling, although some Republican-sponsored polls have suggested a successful recall is more plausible.
  • AP/NORC’s latest poll indicates increasing confidence in vaccinations but continued partisan divides in vaccination rates. The survey found that 53 percent of Americans were extremely or very confident in the quick and safe distribution of vaccines, while 46 percent expressed confidence that vaccines had been fairly distributed. This represents a marked uptick over AP/NORC’s February poll, when less than 30 percent expressed high degrees of confidence in fair, quick and safe distribution. The new poll also found that 45 percent of Americans were extremely or very confident the vaccines had been properly tested for safety and effectiveness, up from 39 percent in February. However, while 79 percent of Democrats said they’d gotten the vaccine, only 56 percent of Republicans said the same. And far more Republicans (32 percent) than Democrats (8 percent) said they probably or definitely would not get the vaccine at all.
  • The fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza has exposed a rift within the Democratic Party between staunch defenders of Israel and those who are more critical of its government. Back in February, Gallup found for the first time that a majority of Democrats favored putting more pressure on Israelis to make compromises to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But increased criticism of Israel could risk losing political support from some American Jews, who remain overwhelmingly Democratic in their political preferences, according to a new report from Pew. Overall, 71 percent identified as or leaned toward the Democrats in 2020, compared with 26 percent who identified as or leaned toward the Republicans — figures that are mostly unchanged from Pew’s 2013 findings. But among just Jewish Democrats, the 2020 report also found that 52 percent said they felt very or somewhat “attached to Israel,” and 48 percent felt U.S. support for Israel was about right; 17 percent said the U.S. wasn’t supportive enough of Israel, while 29 percent said the U.S. was too supportive.
  • The general funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, which originated from the 2020 coronavirus stimulus package, ran out on May 4, but voters told Morning Consult they supported continued federal assistance to many sectors of the economy. There was net support (support minus opposition) for small businesses (+73), restaurants (+62), local governments (+45) and retailers (+44), and to a lesser extent hotel companies (+23), movie theaters (+16), airlines (+14) and car manufacturers (+4). Backing for assistance across these industries was generally down from Morning Consult’s poll in March 2020, when PPP was first implemented, but support has remained high overall for many of them. Also according to the new survey, 55 percent of voters believe the economy is still hurting and needs further assistance from Congress, compared with just 31 percent who say no more assistance is necessary.
  • A new poll from Ipsos found that 89 percent of Americans included meat as part of their diet, and 59 percent agreed that eating red meat specifically was part of the American way of life. The polling comes as Republican politicians and celebrities on the right have falsely claimed that the Biden administration was trying to limit Americans’ red meat intake. The poll found that 26 percent of Americans agreed that there was a movement to ban meat in the U.S., while 35 percent disagreed. Only Republicans were more likely to agree than disagree that such a movement existed (44 percent agreed, 21 percent disagreed), while independents were more evenly divided (28 percent agreed, 33 percent disagreed). Democrats, however, overwhelmingly rejected the idea (53 percent disagreed, 13 percent agreed).

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 52.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +12.2 percentage points). At this time last week, 53.4 percent approved and 40.0 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +13.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 53.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 39.5 percent, for a net approval rating of +14.0 points.

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  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.