Nancy Pelosi has overcome some opposition from House Democrats and is almost certain to be elected speaker on Thursday. But Pelosi, who was also speaker from 2007 to 2011, is a fairly unpopular figure, and one of the chief arguments of her Democratic critics has been that she will be a drag on the party politically.
Whether she’ll be a drag on other Democratic candidates or not, her critics are right about one thing: Pelosi is not popular. Nevertheless, the California Democrat will not be a unique drag on her party — virtually all congressional leaders are unpopular in modern U.S. politics. Pelosi is unpopular, will likely remain unpopular and may grow even more unpopular, but that would probably be the case for anyone Democrats chose to be speaker.
Take the current crop of Republican and Democratic party leaders in Congress. According to the latest polling average at RealClearPolitics, Pelosi has a 33 percent favorable rating and a 48 percent unfavorable rating. That gives her a -15 point net favorability rating, which is similar to the ratings of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (-22), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (-10) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (-20).1
Why are virtually all congressional leaders unpopular? First, there’s the job itself. A congressional leader … leads Congress. And Congress is a deeply unpopular institution — especially nowadays. We don’t know exactly why Congress is loathed, but I suspect that it’s because while presidents get to give speeches in front of huge crowds, lawmakers are tasked with the more messy process of holding hearings, whipping votes and coming up with legislative compromises that often leave everyone with something to dislike. Looking back at