House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

The underappreciated detail about Nancy Pelosi’s public standing

About a month ago, when Republicans were quite concerned about losing special elections in Montana and Georgia, the GOP leaders made no secret about their plan to prevail: they’d just keep complaining about Nancy Pelosi and count on conservative voters to have the conditioned, knee-jerk response.

“I think we’ll see if it works,” NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said. “I believe it still works.”

And despite four congressional special elections in which Dems easily outpaced last year’s Democratic performance in red districts in red states, there’s apparently a growing consensus that the House Minority Leader has become a political problem for her party. NBC News wrote this morning, “Democrats have to admit they have a Pelosi problem.”

Politico reports today some on Capitol Hill are drawing the same conclusion.

There is no challenge to Pelosi’s leadership, and none is going to happen at this point, said numerous Democrats. But it’s clear frustration is growing with the longtime Democratic leader following the extensive losses Democrats have suffered over the past half-decade.

And the fact that Republicans spent millions of dollars on TV ads tying Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff to Pelosi – and the brand of progressive policies she represents – shows that she will once again be an issue for Democratic challengers in the very districts that the party needs to win to make her speaker again.

Some Democrats want to replace Pelosi atop their caucus, as they have since last November’s poor showing at the polls; they say there is no way to get back in the majority with her as their leader. And others who backed her in last year’s leadership challenge have now flipped their stance.

“Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost,” Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) added. “But she certainly is one of the reasons.”

While I don’t know the degree to which that’s true, it’s plainly obvious that for much of the right, the House Democratic leader is effectively a culture-war totem. We don’t see multi-million-dollar ad campaigns attempting to tie various candidates to Chuck Schumer; we never really saw comparable attacks featuring Harry Reid; and we’re long past the point at which connecting Dems to Barack Obama would be effective; but Nancy Pelosi, for reasons that deserve quite a bit more scrutiny, remains the villain of choice for Republicans and their allies to bash with glee.

There’s just one salient detail that gets overlooked amid this discussion.

Less than a month ago, Quinnipiac released the results of a national poll, which included gauging public attitudes on congressional leaders. The results showed Nancy Pelosi with 30% favorable rating and a 50% unfavorable rating.

And while numbers like those won’t win any popularity contests, the same poll showed House Speaker Paul Ryan with a 27% favorable rating and a 54% unfavorable rating.

That’s right, for all the whining and handwringing, after all the attack ads and cheap shots, by some measures, Paul Ryan is actually less popular than Nancy Pelosi.

This doesn’t fit nicely into the prevailing narrative – no one seems to ask what Republicans intend to do about their widely disliked House leader – but it’s a detail that’s worth keeping in mind.