Newt Gingrich’s long flirtation with a run for president – this week he’s promoting an “American Solutions” agenda and appearing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”– warrants a look at public opinion during his tenure as House speaker.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Never in more than a dozen ABC/Post polls from 1995 to 1998 did Gingrich’s approval rating exceed his disapproval. He never saw better than 41 percent approval (Nancy Pelosi’s been 13 points higher), while going as high as 65 percent disapproval during the unpopular government shutdown in a fall 1995 budget battle with Bill Clinton.
Sixty-four percent opposed Gingrich’s re-election as speaker in January 1997. And when he announced in November 1998 that he was stepping down, 70 percent approved.
He was broadly seen as divisive: In 1998 data, 63 percent said he’d tried harder to work against the Democrats in Congress than to work with them. Ninety percent said his successor should try harder to be more cooperative with the then-opposition party. And 82 percent opposed his running for president in 2000.
Gingrich was personally as well as professionally unpopular. More Americans viewed him unfavorably than favorably in every ABC/Post poll in which we asked the question from 1995 through 1998. His final rating in November 1998 was 58 percent unfavorable.
At the time of his 1997 House reprimand in a fundraising inquiry, two-thirds thought he’d broken the law, six in 10 thought he’d tried to mislead the Ethics Committee and 62 percent said he was not honest and trustworthy. Earlier, in 1995, six in 10 said he did not represent the views of most Americans, and more, 66 percent, said he lacked the personality and temperament to serve as president.
Most did see Gingrich as an effective House speaker – in late 1998, 56 percent said he’d been successful in the job – and he wasn’t seen as any more dishonest than most politicians in Washington. But, in sum, he was far from a popular political figure.
And now? In our most recent ABC/Post poll Gingrich has five percent support for the Republican nomination, down from a high of 15 percent in February.