Mike Pence Is Starting His Presidential Campaign From A Historically Bad Position

The American vice presidency, according to one of its former officeholders, is “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” But for a worthless office, the vice presidency has certainly produced a lot of presidents: Though John Nance Garner, the former VP credited with the colorful aphorism never reached the White House, a number of his fellow vice presidents have. Overall, the office has proven to be one of the most common stepping stones to the presidency — or at least to becoming a party’s presidential nominee.

But that success rate will face a major test in 2024: Former Vice President Mike Pence has just announced his candidacy for president, entering the race in arguably a weaker position than just about any other modern vice president. This is due in part to the challenges Pence faces, including the unusual prospect of running against the president he served under and his reduced political standing among Republicans since he refused to aid former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

Pence is the ninth elected vice president since World War II to seek the presidency either as a sitting or former VP. Of the eight who came before him, six went on to win their party’s presidential nomination at some point. Based on that track record, then, we’d expect Pence to be in a good position to compete for his party’s nomination.

Modern vice presidents usually win their party’s nomination

Elected vice presidents who ran for president and whether they won their party’s nomination, 1949-present

Vice President Party Served as VP Year(s) ran Won nomination
Alben W. Barkley D 1949-1953 1952
Richard Nixon R 1953-1961 1960, 1968
Hubert Humphrey D 1965-1969 1968, 1972
Spiro Agnew* R 1969-1973
Walter Mondale D 1977-1981 1984
George H.W. Bush R 1981-1989 1988
Dan Quayle† R 1989-1993 2000
Al Gore D 1993-2001 2000
Dick Cheney R 2001-2009
Joe Biden D 2009-2017 2020
Mike Pence R 2017-2021 2024

This list does not include elected vice presidents who became president due to the death of the president, such as Lyndon Johnson, or ones appointed to fill the vice presidency under the 25th Amendment, such as Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller. It also does not include runs by sitting or former vice presidents that predate their time as VP.

*Agnew resigned the vice presidency on Oct. 10, 1973, in the face of a felony charge for tax evasion.

†Quayle had a short-lived exploratory campaign during the 1996 cycle.

Sources: CQ Press Guide to U.S. Elections, The American Presidency Project, News Reports

But to put it bluntly, Pence faces an incredibly steep climb. As of June 6 at 6 p.m., he’s polling at just above 5 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s average of national Republican primary surveys. And limited early polling in Iowa and New Hampshire has Pence in the low single-digits, too.

That Pence significantly trails Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is clear, but if we consider how Pence’s standing compares to that of past sitting and former vice presidents running for president, the situation looks even more dire. In the modern era of presidential primaries — 1972 to present — Pence is polling just about the worst of any vice president at this point in the election cycle. Only Dan Quayle, whose campaign for the 2000 GOP nomination never really got going in a cycle that then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush dominated from the start, attracted as little support as Pence. 

Pence is polling worse than nearly every other modern VP

National polling average for sitting or former vice presidents across all presidential primary polls conducted from January through May of the year before the primary, 1972 cycle to present



Year President Avg.
1972 Hubert Humphrey 17.3%

1984 Walter Mondale 35.7

1988 George H.W. Bush 34.6

2000 Al Gore 52.1

2000 Dan Quayle 7.1

2020 Joe Biden 31.1

2024 Mike Pence 6.8

This averages all polls in this period that included these vice presidents as a response. Head-to-head polls are excluded. If the same pollster conducted surveys in overlapping periods, the older poll is excluded. If polls included multiple samples, only the most exclusive population of Democratic or Republican respondents is included. If a pollster had more than one question with the same population that asked about different lists of candidates, we averaged the results across all versions.

Source: POLLS

Besides Quayle, most other vice presidents have been more clearly competitive in the polls at this early point, if not clearly ahead. Vice Presidents Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore and Biden all led their respective primary fields five months into the year before the primary; all would go on to become their party’s nominee.

Now, it’s still early in the election cycle, but early primary polls have historically been a relatively good barometer of a candidate’s chances of winning a presidential nomination. Candidates polling at Pence’s level, especially those who are well-known to voters like he is, have very rarely gone on to enjoy a balloon drop at a party convention. Of course, Pence also faces a challenge none of his modern vice presidential predecessors had to confront: He’s running against the president he served under. At present, Trump is attracting slightly more than half of all support among potential Republican primary voters.

The million-dollar question is, can Pence substantially change his position in the race? One major challenge is that he’s notably less well-liked among Republicans than his main primary opponents. In an average of national polls conducted since May 1, Pence has a favorable rating among Republicans of about 51 percent and an unfavorable rating of about 34 percent, putting his net favorability at +17. By comparison, Trump, DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy all polled +20 or better, even though all but Trump and DeSantis are much less well-known to the public than Pence.

The reason Pence finds himself more disliked and hovering in the mid-single digits in primary polls is fairly straightforward: Pence’s ratings among Republicans tumbled and have remained relatively low since he refused to assist Trump in subverting the results of the 2020 election. As vice president, Pence presided over the certification of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump tried to pressure Pence to discard electoral votes and overturn now-President Biden’s victory, but Pence refused to do so, claiming he had no constitutional right to intercede in the certification process. (Quayle, Pence’s fellow Hoosier, reportedly advised an uncertain Pence that the vice president had no authority to avoid certification.) 

This is not to say that all Republican primary voters turned on Pence — he does have a net positive favorability rating — but there’s clear evidence that Jan. 6 damaged Pence’s standing among the party faithful. It hasn’t helped Pence that Trump has continued to blame him for his defeat, even as Pence has argued that Trump was “wrong” about Pence’s prerogative to help overturn the 2020 result. Unfortunately for him, Pence finds himself in the minority among Republicans when it comes to views about the election’s outcome. In March, 63 percent of Republicans told an SSRS/CNN survey that Biden had not won legitimately enough votes to become president, in line with what most polls have found since the 2020 contest.

Despite his difficulties, Pence may still hope to change some Republican minds. And we do know that it’s not impossible to improve one’s standing: Trump himself quickly went from being rather unpopular among Republicans to somewhat popular early in his 2016 campaign, once the GOP base got to know him more as a candidate and not just as a celebrity. But Pence is running in a GOP that is clearly Trump’s party, whether or not the former president does go on to win the Republican nomination. Not only is Trump polling in the mid-50s in national surveys, but the Trump-like DeSantis is in second with around 20 percent, meaning around 3 in 4 Republicans back a Trumpist vision for the party. Moreover, early data suggests that DeSantis has far more second-choice support among Trump backers than Pence.

It’s impossible to know, but considering his obstacles, Pence may be running not so much to win his party’s nomination but to influence the GOP to move toward a more traditionally conservative path. Political movements often take years to develop and gain traction, so it will be difficult in the near term to gauge just how much impact Pence’s campaign will have on his party’s direction. All in all, Pence’s choice to not interfere in certifying the results of a free and fair election has made it unlikely that he’ll win the 2024 Republican nomination. But at least he can probably sleep at night.


And Then There Were 9 (GOP Presidential Candidates)

By the end of this week, the number of major candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination is expected to grow to nine. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are all expected to jump into the race this week. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how these candidates might shape the race.

Also, the Republican National Committee announced the date and criteria for the first primary debate last Friday. The polling criteria are pretty notable, as there may not be that many polls that actually qualify. So is that a good or bad use of polling?

And over the weekend, President Biden signed into law a suspension of the debt ceiling through January 2025 along with some cuts to federal spending.


Chris Christie Should Have Run For President In 2012

On Tuesday night in New Hampshire, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he was running for president. But the announcement came about 12 years too late.

Since passing on a presidential campaign in 2012, when he was still a popular first-term governor, Christie has become the poster child for not striking when the political iron is hot. By the time he did run for president, in 2016, his star had fallen — and he arguably starts this campaign in an even worse position. Like in 2016, his biggest impact on the 2024 Republican primary could be in helping to take down a front-runner — but he’s so disliked, even that may be futile.

To be blunt: If Christie wanted to be president, he missed his chance by not running in 2012. “Now is not my time,” he said at a press conference announcing his decision on Oct. 4, 2011. Except, in retrospect, it was the best chance he was going to get. In September 2011, he was riding high: A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll gave him a 54 percent approval rating and only a 36 percent disapproval rating in New Jersey, remarkable numbers for a Republican in a blue state. A national poll from YouGov/The Economist showed him tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for first place in the Republican presidential primary. And Republican elites had spent months trying to draft him into a weak GOP field. The national polling leader, Romney, sat at only 22 percent in the RealClearPolitics average at the time — a level of support that, from 1972 to 2016, has implied only about a 1-in-5 chance of winning the nomination, according to an analysis by my colleague Geoffrey Skelley. 

But just a few years later, all that Christie curiosity evaporated. After he won reelection in a landslide in 2013, news broke that Christie aides had closed traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in order to create traffic problems in Fort Lee, New Jersey, to retaliate politically against the city’s mayor, who hadn’t endorsed Christie for reelection. The scandal permanently torpedoed Christie’s approval ratings in New Jersey:

And according to Monmouth University polling, his net favorability rating among Republican registered voters nationally fell from +36 points (54 percent favorable to 18 percent unfavorable) in July 2013 to -17 points (26 percent to 43 percent) in June 2015.

Christie nevertheless jumped into the presidential race at the end of that month. When he did, he ranked only eighth nationally with 4 percent support, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. For the rest of the campaign, not a single poll showed him doing better than 6 percent in Iowa or 13 percent in New Hampshire, and he dropped out after finishing sixth in the Granite State. 

Today, Christie’s campaign is starting with even less reason for hope. He has not exceeded 3 percent in a single poll — national or state — of the full primary field so far this year. He hasn’t been an elected official for more than five years now, so he’s less in the national spotlight: According to Media Cloud, only 676 online articles from national news outlets mentioned him in the past month, compared with 1,306 in the month before his 2016 campaign launch. And after breaking with former President Donald Trump over his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Christie is more unpopular than ever among Republican registered voters: His national net favorability rating in the latest Monmouth poll was -26 points (21 percent to 47 percent).

Then again, Christie may know all this. There’s even a theory that he’s running for president not to win, but to slay the dragon that is Trump’s front-running campaign — a dragon, it must be noted, that Christie played a key role in enabling as the first governor or senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 campaign (after his own campaign ended, of course). But Christie has spent the last couple of years publicly attacking Trump as a “coward” and a “child” who “undermined our democracy.” That’s a level of anti-Trump vitriol that has so far been absent from the 2024 primary, despite Trump getting indicted and being found liable for sexual abuse.

Christie could impact the race simply by making the case against Trump; even if he doesn’t personally benefit from it, a slew of aggressive attacks on the front-runner could take the wind out of Trump’s sails and shift support toward, say, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. As a template, look no further than what Christie did to Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. In a debate just days before the New Hampshire primary, Christie lit into Rubio for his inexperience and canned talking points. After Rubio finished fifth in New Hampshire, a narrative emerged that Christie had mortally wounded his campaign.

Christie has all but said this is his strategy again in 2024. “You better have somebody on that stage who can do to him what I did to Marco, because that’s the only thing that’s gonna defeat Donald Trump,” he explained in March. 

There are just a few problems with that. First, Christie’s impact on the 2016 race is probably overstated. Yes, Rubio went from polling at 16 percent in New Hampshire on the day of the debate (according to FiveThirtyEight’s average at the time) to winning just 11 percent in the actual primary. But Trump certainly didn’t owe his win in New Hampshire to Christie: Trump was already the odds-on favorite before the debate. And Rubio actually recovered somewhat to finish second in both South Carolina and Nevada — but at that point, it didn’t really matter, since Trump was well on his way to winning the nomination.

Moreover, in order for Christie to be “on that stage” to attack Trump this year, Christie will need to satisfy the Republican National Committee’s criteria to qualify for the debates: Candidates will need to receive at least 1 percent in three separate polls and have at least 40,000 donors. Given Christie’s moribund support, he may not even meet those standards and make the debates.

Finally, even if Christie gets a platform from which to attack Trump, it may not even make a difference. Remember, almost half of Republicans dislike Christie (and 77 percent think well of Trump), so they probably wouldn’t be too receptive to Christie’s arguments. Christie’s attacks on Trump might not land that much better than attacks on Trump from the mass media or President Biden — two other entities that are unpopular with Republican voters. Sure, Christie might have some credibility that those two don’t because he’s a fellow Republican, but don’t count on that. As Michael Tesler recently wrote for FiveThirtyEight, Republicans’ devotion to Trump is so strong that they stop considering Republican politicians to be conservative after they start criticizing Trump.

Probably no one will be shocked to learn that Christie has a vanishingly small chance of becoming the Republican nominee for president. Though he once had that potential, his window of opportunity closed long ago. Instead, his best shot at making a difference in this race is as an attack dog. But it’s fair to wonder whether he is now too irrelevant to be effective even at that.


Why Some Republican Candidates Might Not Make The Debate Stage

Whether they’re generating news coverage or raising money (or, in recent years, eyebrows), debates are a critical part of the presidential primary calendar. A great performance can help a lesser-known candidate gain ground in the polls and expand their fundraising reach, while a poor showing can mark the beginning of the end — or the end, period — for someone’s presidential aspirations. 

But before candidates can make or break their campaigns, they need to get on the debate stage. On Friday, the Republican National Committee released its debate qualification criteria for the party’s first debate on Aug. 23, 2023. The RNC’s guidelines, which establish candidate polling and fundraising thresholds, are pretty similar to Democratic National Committee’s at the start of the 2020 cycle. However, there are a few additional twists and specifications — most notably, the requirement that candidates pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee and the criteria for determining which polls count toward qualification — that could limit the field.

To make the debate, the RNC will require candidates to meet four separate requirements. First, a contender must be a declared candidate who has filed with the Federal Election Commission. Second, a candidate must have earned 1 percent support in three national polls, or in two national polls and at least one poll of the GOP’s first four states, recognized by the RNC and conducted in July and August. Third, a candidate must have at least 40,000 unique contributors to their presidential campaign committee, with at least 200 from 20 states and/or territories. And lastly, a candidate must sign three documents: a pledge to support the GOP’s eventual nominee, a data-sharing agreement with the RNC and a pledge to not participate in any debates not sanctioned by the RNC.

So given these requirements, who would make the stage if the debate were held today? Currently, six candidates are at 1 percent or higher in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence (expected to announce his candidacy on June 7), former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Though the polls taken up until this point won’t count toward debate qualification, these candidates seemingly have good shots at being at 1 percent in July and August surveys. And they can probably attract or already have sufficient donors, as even the lesser-known Ramaswamy recently announced he had met the donor threshold.

It’s unclear, however, exactly how many polls the RNC will recognize — though it could be a smaller number than those used by the DNC to determine debate qualification in 2019. In its release, the RNC said it would only consider polls conducted by organizations unaffiliated with a candidate or a candidate committee that sampled at least “800 registered likely Republican voters.” This significantly limits the number of polls under consideration, as many primary polls around this time in an election cycle sample registered voters or adults without a likely voter screen, and relatively few have an 800-plus voter sample size. In fact, since Jan. 1, a period of just over 150 days, only seven Republican primary polls in FiveThirtyEight’s database appear to meet those criteria. And because the RNC will only recognize polls conducted from July 1 to just before the debate, pollsters will only have about 50 days to conduct and release qualifying polls. 

By comparison, the DNC in 2019 provided a list of pollsters whose data would count toward qualification and counted any poll publicly released between Jan. 1, 2019, and two weeks before the first debate in June — a period of just over five months. In the end, the DNC had 23 qualifying polls.

Now, pollsters could respond by working to expand their sample size and use a likely voter screen to meet the RNC’s requirement. For instance, an April poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates/Impact Research for The Wall Street Journal had a sample of 600 likely Republican primary voters. However, even if that well-known pollster pairing expanded its sample size in future surveys, would they count? Tony Fabrizio currently works with a Trump-aligned super PAC, which may run afoul of the pollster affiliation rule. Republican polling firms that often release national or state-level surveys of likely voters could run into a similar issue, because some of them may be aligned with a candidate’s committee or supportive outside group. Some media-sponsored polls do start polling likely voters in the early summer, but even then they rarely have sample sizes as large as 800.

We reached out to the RNC for comment and clarification about its polling qualification criteria, but as of press time had not heard back.

The stricter guidelines for the polls are not the only place where Republicans have made it harder to qualify for presidential debates, compared to the Democrats’ 2020 requirements. By mandating that candidates reach minimum thresholds for both polling and donors, the RNC has skipped ahead of the DNC’s initial rules in the 2020 cycle. For its first two debates, Democrats allowed candidates to qualify via either the polling or donor route, and it wasn’t until the third debate that candidates had to meet both a polling and donor threshold to qualify. By necessitating both from the start, Republicans may reduce the number of qualifiers. But if there are too many qualified candidates for one stage, the RNC said it could host a second debate night on Aug. 24, similar to what the Democrats did four years ago. 

However, the RNC is starting out with a lower threshold for unique donors than the DNC did in 2019 — 40,000 versus 65,000 — which may reflect the GOP’s comparatively lower amount of small-donor fundraising. Nonetheless, some lesser-known Republican contenders, such as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and radio personality Larry Elder, expressed frustration with even that comparatively lower figure, viewing it as a serious barrier to their qualification chances.

The final potentially major limitation on the number of candidates are the pledges — particularly the pledge to support the eventual nominee. Trump — who will surely meet the polling and donor requirements — has not committed to signing it, which much of the coverage of the RNC’s debate qualification announcement immediately homed in on. Now, Trump did sign a similar pledge in September 2015 after much back-and-forth with the RNC. But while he was ostensibly the GOP’s front-runner back then, Trump is in a much stronger position this time around, polling north of 50 percent and having reshaped the party in his image during his presidency. As such, he may not see much reason to give into the RNC on this debate requirement.


Politics Podcast: The GOP Field Gets Crowded

By the end of this week, the number of major candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination is expected to grow to nine. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are all expected to jump into the race this week. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how these candidates might shape the race.

Also, the Republican National Committee announced the date and criteria for the first primary debate last Friday. The polling criteria are pretty notable, as there may not be that many polls that actually qualify. So is that a good or bad use of polling?

And over the weekend, President Biden signed into law a suspension of the debt ceiling through January 2025 along with some cuts to federal spending.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


Abortion Is Already Tripping Up The 2024 Republican Candidates

Ask six Republican candidates for president whether they think there should be a national ban on abortion, and you’ll get at least seven different answers. In just the past two months, current and prospective candidates have committed at various points to the general idea of a federal bans on abortion (maybe 15 weeks of pregnancy), said it’s a states’ rights issue but they’re looking at “alternatives,” expressed support for six-week bans at the state level while declining to say whether they think a national version would be appropriate, and said they support efforts to get a widely used abortion drug “off the market.”

All of this waffling might suggest that the Republican Party is struggling to find a path forward on abortion after last year’s midterm elections, where abortion rights was a drag on GOP candidates in swing states. But something more complicated is happening. Republicans passed a significant number of first-trimester restrictions at the state level this spring, ranging from full bans to bans on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, none of which are popular with most Americans. And many of the GOP candidates are coalescing around some form of national ban, even if they aren’t on the same page about the specifics.

So the GOP isn’t backing down on its efforts to restrict abortion, even in the face of fairly broad public opposition. The dispute now — in state legislatures and among the presidential candidates — is more about how far to go and how quickly. Presidential candidates are in a tough spot — caught between state legislatures, courts intervening in unexpected ways and unambiguously negative polling numbers on abortion restrictions. That’s particularly true for higher-polling candidates like former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who need to weigh how a gung-ho attitude about abortion restrictions — while probably helpful during the primary — would play in a general election. 

Since the beginning of the year, seven states have passed new restrictions on abortion early in pregnancy, including three near-total bans (Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming), two bans on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy (Florida and South Carolina), and two bans on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy (Nebraska and North Carolina). Not all of those bans are currently in effect — some, like Wyoming’s full ban and South Carolina’s six-week ban, were temporarily blocked by the courts, and others won’t become law until a later date — but they showed that GOP lawmakers are serious about continuing to restrict abortion access, even in purplish states like North Carolina and Florida. 

The bans in Nebraska and South Carolina followed high-profile failures to pass new abortion restrictions last summer, indicating that in some places, there might actually be more anti-abortion momentum now than there was immediately after Dobbs. The only (very mild) concessions to public opinion were in Tennessee, Idaho and West Virginia, where lawmakers added language to the existing near-total bans either clarifying that ectopic pregnancies were not included, or not subject to reporting requirements.

The 12-week bans were explicitly presented as compromises — a way to outlaw second-trimester abortion without alienating the handful of moderate Republicans who thought a six-week ban went too far. And in South Carolina, the six-week ban that ultimately passed was also an unhappy middle ground for conservative Republicans — who wanted a full ban — and moderate Republicans, who wanted a 12-week ban. 

But all of the first-trimester restrictions that passed this year have political risks. Full bans are overwhelmingly unpopular with Americans overall, which is likely why they only passed in highly conservative states. But a FiveThirtyEight analysis of polls conducted between September 2021 and May 2023 found that Americans are ambivalent about 15-week bans and unambiguously oppose six-week bans. According to our analysis, an average of 44 percent of Americans overall were in favor of a 15-week ban during this period, while the same share were opposed. Meanwhile, only 34 percent of Americans supported a six-week ban, and a majority (54 percent) were opposed. There are fewer polls on 12-week bans, but a survey of North Carolina likely voters conducted by Change Research for the left-leaning group Carolina Forward in early May found that less than half of respondents wanted abortion to be illegal at 12 weeks or earlier, while 59 percent wanted to either keep North Carolina’s current restriction on abortion after 20 weeks, or get rid of restrictions on access altogether.

So any early restriction is going to be controversial — and the GOP’s push to tighten abortion laws is generally at odds with public sentiment overall. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that in areas where abortion was prohibited in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, the share of people who think it should be easier to get an abortion rose from 31 percent in 2019 to 43 percent in 2023. There was a similar uptick in states where abortion was restricted or the law was being disputed in the courts. The poll also found that a majority of Americans (62 percent) think that states are making it too hard to get an abortion, including a substantial minority (39 percent) of Republicans. A majority (53 percent) of Republicans also think it should either be easier (20 percent) or about as difficult as it is now (33 percent) to get an abortion in their area, while less than half (44 percent) think it should be harder. And a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans overall are much more likely to say that the Democratic Party represents their view on abortion (42 percent) compared to the Republican Party (26 percent).

None of this polling points much of an appetite for more abortion restrictions, even among a solid chunk of Republicans. And it’s especially difficult for presidential candidates to find a position that both pleases anti-abortion advocates and isn’t broadly unpopular. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in April found that only 21 percent of Americans support a national ban on abortion without exceptions, and just over one-third (35 percent) are in favor of a national ban at six weeks’ gestation. The idea of banning abortion nationally — even at a later point in pregnancy, like 15 weeks — seems to be fairly politically toxic: A YouGov/Economist poll conducted last fall found that there was more support for establishing a national right to abortion (51 percent) than banning abortion at 15 weeks, while allowing states to enact stricter laws on their own (39 percent).

GOP candidates, however, aren’t running in a general election yet. They’re facing demands from anti-abortion groups to commit to some kind of federal ban — one prominent group threatened to campaign against any candidate who refuses to support a 15-week national ban — and from a significant (and vocal) chunk of their own electorate who also want more restrictions. This is likely one reason why candidates like former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley are floundering for answers, and willing — like DeSantis and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — to endorse specific state laws while refusing to say (or simply not addressing) whether they’d sign a similar measure at the national level. Imposing abortion restrictions on the entire country is an especially unpopular move at a moment when many Americans don’t think lawmakers should be doing anything to make it harder to get an abortion.

So as the primary continues, Republican candidates may be forced to endorse stances that they agree with in principle but could hurt them later. And so far, none of the candidates seem to have much of a strategy for convincing Americans that enacting more restrictions on abortion is the right approach.


Who Gave Up More In The Debt Ceiling Negotiations: Biden Or Republicans?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior reporter): On Wednesday night, the House voted to approve a debt ceiling deal, pulling the country back from a catastrophic potential default. And on Thursday night, the Senate passed the bill too. The deal will suspend the debt limit until the first quarter of 2025, with some cuts to government spending and new work requirements for some recipients of government benefits. There were some dramatic moments — including a last-minute rebellion from far-right Republicans — but ultimately the 314-117 vote in favor of the bill was decisive and bipartisan.

Of course, both houses of Congress had to agree on the deal. But the Republican-controlled House was always going to be the bigger hurdle for both President Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had a very slim majority to work with. So let’s talk about the political ramifications of the deal-making process and the vote in the House. How did the vote break down among Democrats and Republicans, and were you surprised by anything that happened over the course of the day on Wednesday?

kaleigh (Kaleigh Rogers, technology and politics reporter): Well, as expected, the outer fringes of both parties were not super stoked about this compromise, since it didn’t fully meet either side’s ideal. That meant it was up to members in the center to get it over the finish line, which they did without too much drama.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, senior elections analyst): No doubt about that, Kaleigh. If we look at a breakdown of the vote, it turns out that Republicans with more conservative voting records — and from redder districts — were somewhat more likely to vote against the bill than other Republicans. The same was true (although to a lesser extent) for more liberal Democrats from bluer seats, compared with other Democrats.

Monica Potts (Monica Potts, senior politics reporter): I was a bit surprised to see how much of the support for the deal came from Democrats: 165 Democrats voted for it, while only 149 Republicans did, and 71 Republicans opposed it (compared to 46 Democrats). It’s hard to see how it would have passed without Democratic support, and Kevin McCarthy’s leadership was already shaky. I wonder what this will mean within McCarthy’s own caucus, that he couldn’t get enough support from his own party to pass it without Democratic help. 

geoffrey.skelley: The spin from all directions was interesting yesterday. You had a fair amount of press coverage — and many Republicans — casting the vote as proof that McCarthy can successfully lead a narrow House majority after he struggled to become speaker back in January. But then you had other right-wing voices suggesting the vote was proof that McCarthy is weak because the legislation passed with even more Democratic votes. I suspect it is too early to know for sure! A final judgment on this episode may rest on whether the party’s right flank attempts to force McCarthy out via a motion to vacate the chair, and if such an action receives significant support among the broader GOP caucus.

But at the end of the day, McCarthy did get roughly two-thirds of his caucus to back a debt ceiling hike, which is an accomplishment given the rhetoric from some in the party who opposed the agreement. (Although that kind of talk is sometimes bluster.) Really, though, McCarthy was always going to need some Democratic votes to get this over the line. That’s frustrating to members on the far right, but an actual bipartisan deal was never going to get their unabashed approval. 

ameliatd: So is this a win for McCarthy? Or not?

geoffrey.skelley: Based on what I laid out above, I guess my early view is that it’s a win for McCarthy. But the size of the win is yet to be determined.

kaleigh: It’s a modest win for McCarthy. A modest but perhaps slightly larger win for Biden.

Monica Potts: The deal is pretty far from the Republican version the House passed in April. I would say it’s a bigger win for Biden than for Republicans, but it was sort of a forced crisis in that raising the debt ceiling is just about paying for things already approved by Congress. 

ameliatd: And Biden said he wouldn’t negotiate at all! There are definitely some concessions in the deal to Republicans. Let’s talk a bit about what each side gave up. What made this deal a compromise, and who gave the most?

kaleigh: That’s the thing, right? Biden was able to get this deal together without conceding a ton to the GOP. But his original position was that this shouldn’t even be a discussion. He started by saying that raising the debt ceiling should be entirely divorced from spending talks, and obviously that didn’t happen. There could be some strategy there — stake out an extreme position so that any minor concession feels like a compromise — but it also sets a precedent for debt ceiling talks down the line as an opportunity for Republicans to squeeze spending cuts out of Democrats in order to do what ought to be a pretty standard bureaucratic function.

Monica Potts: On some of the things the sides had to give up: House Republicans really wanted to add work requirements to Medicaid for some adults, and they had to drop that demand, although they did get an expansion to work requirements in the food stamp program. This has been a Republican goal for a while: Arkansas tried a work-requirement program for Medicaid in 2018 before it was halted by the courts, arguing that the requirements would help people find work and move off coverage. That program — and work requirements in general — are opposed by progressives. It’s worth saying that most studies show that work requirements don’t increase work participation; instead they actually decrease participation in safety net programs. A Kaiser Health study of the Arkansas program found that 18,000 people were kicked off Medicaid in Arkansas while it lasted, many of whom were either not required to work or were already working but had problems meeting the reporting requirements. 

geoffrey.skelley: Eh, it probably was untenable for Biden to not give up something without making this more of a crisis. If he had been more strident — or if McCarthy gave less ground — there’d have been a higher chance of the country ending up in default, rather than getting a hard-fought negotiation that, while going down to the last minute, wasn’t necessarily a hair’s breadth from failing. Moreover, McCarthy would have had a very difficult time selling a clean debt ceiling hike to most of his membership, which was necessary for the legislation to reach the floor barring a miracle discharge petition — and it was in Biden’s interest to avoid a calamity just as much as it was for McCarthy. 

So yeah, the strategy seems to be: Stake out an early position of “we’re not negotiating,” but in reality negotiate.

Monica Potts: I agree with Kaleigh and Geoffrey that in some ways the negotiation itself is a win for Republicans. The idea that the debt ceiling is a tool for negotiating spending cuts has become more normal.

ameliatd: So … is it fair to say the real winner here was bipartisanship? (I didn’t think bipartisanship was allowed to win anymore!)

kaleigh: Call me Pollyanna but, honestly, yes. And it’s not a bad look for Biden, who has long made his ability to reach across the aisle and find compromise key to his brand.

geoffrey.skelley: There’s not a ton of bipartisanship available these days, but this is a pretty good example of getting a bipartisan result! Despite the closely-divided House, more than two-thirds of each party backed the agreement!

Monica Potts: Maybe I am cynical but I am seeing everyone as a bit of a loser. Plenty of economists have called for an end to the debt ceiling in general: It doesn’t govern future spending, and the U.S. is obligated to meet its financial obligations. Not reaching a deal could have caused a disaster, and I’m not sure anyone got enough of what they wanted to make that flirtation with disaster worth it.

geoffrey.skelley: Yes, in the long run, the debt ceiling — a thing most other developed countries do not have — should probably go the way of the dodo so we stop doing this every one or two years.

ameliatd: What’s it going to take for that to happen, though? The danger of default is such an effective bargaining chip.

geoffrey.skelley: It’ll take some sort of one-party action when that party has complete control of the government. But I think the biggest hang-up is the perceived risk of voting for getting rid of the debt ceiling or raising it so high as to be irrelevant.

kaleigh: It’s a bit like the filibuster in that way. Everyone likes it when they get to wield it, and hates it when it’s wielded against them.

ameliatd: But are everyday Americans really going to care if the debt ceiling goes bye-bye? As you wrote earlier this week, Kaleigh, their views on it are pretty muddled.

geoffrey.skelley: I think members in competitive seats, or deep-red seats, are afraid of the ads that would ensue during the next election season. Imagine: “[insert representative] voted to run up debt in this country” with some small type at the bottom of the screen noting the vote. 

kaleigh: It’s definitely a subject the average American says they don’t understand well or follow closely. If Congress were to eliminate the debt ceiling, there would of course be ways to spin it during campaign season to point out how members voted, as you note, Geoffrey, but that’s also true of this vote on the deal.

ameliatd: Now we’re talking about our bread and butter: elections. Biden has just launched his reelection campaign. What — if anything — does the deal mean for his chances in 2024?

geoffrey.skelley: Biden can sell this deal as proof of his bipartisan bona fides and commitment to responsible government vs. the chaos associated with Trump. So in that way, it may well be useful for his overall profile with voters who helped elect him in 2020 but aren’t solidly in the Democrats’ camp.

At the same time, we’re so far from the true 2024 general election campaign that it may not matter a great deal. Avoiding a debt default crisis almost certainly won’t matter as much as an actual crisis would have.

Monica Potts: I agree with Geoffrey that Biden can sell this as an example of bipartisanship. I don’t know if voters will remember this particular fight, but I think a lot will depend on the overall economy and how people are feeling about their financial situation when they vote. Americans care about how they’re doing financially, so that will matter more than this deal I think.

kaleigh: I’d agree with Geoffrey’s last point. This is almost a non-contributing factor to 2024, whereas defaulting on the debt would have been a huge blow to Biden’s campaign. But default would have been a crisis for everybody who is currently in office, so the only way through this was always going to be a compromise.


Why Trump Is Polling Much Better Among Very Conservative Primary Voters Than In 2016

Shortly before the 2016 presidential primaries began, the influential conservative outlet the National Review devoted an entire edition of its biweekly magazine to making the ideological case “against Trump.”

The issue featured essays from over 20 prominent conservatives explaining why Donald Trump’s campaign was “a menace to conservatism.” It also included a scathing editorial from the National Review’s editors, which disparaged the Republican Party’s then-presidential frontrunner as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” 

With Trump’s campaign rhetoric rejecting the party’s “broad conservative ideological consensus” in favor of heterodox positions on issues from government spending to restricting free markets to isolationist foreign policies, it’s not surprising that he performed relatively poorly with “very conservative” voters in the 2016 Republican primaries. 

But that prior pattern has now completely reversed itself in early polling on the 2024 Republican primaries. 

In a February 2016 poll from Quinnipiac University, Trump received only 27 percent support among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters who described themselves as “very conservative” — 18 percentage points worse than he did with “somewhat conservative” GOP primary voters. Quinnipiac’s March 2023 poll, however, suggests that Trump now has the support of 61 percent of “very conservative” Republican primary voters — 18 points higher than his support among the “somewhat conservatives.”

Trump’s strong showing among the most conservative voters shows up in other early polling on the 2024 primaries as well. A late April SurveyUSA Poll of likely primary voters in North Carolina had him winning 72 percent of “very conservative” Republicans, compared with less than half of other Republican voters. Likewise, another late April survey from Echelon Insights showed Trump polling 27 percentage points better among “very conservative” Republicans in head-to-head nationwide primary matchups against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis than he did with “somewhat conservative” Republicans (77 percent to 50 percent).

These results raise the question of why the ideology of Trump’s base has changed so dramatically from 2016 to 2023.

There are undoubtedly multiple factors at play here, but perhaps the biggest are the profound ways in which Trump’s presidency shifted the meaning of conservatism in U.S. politics. As political scientists Dan Hopkins and Hans Noel documented in a previous piece for FiveThirtyEight, Trump has come to define who and what Republican Party activists — that is, people who volunteer for political campaigns, donate money, work for politicians, etc. — think of as conservative. Their research, for instance, found that GOP activists viewed Trump critics like former Sens. Ben Sasse and Patrick Toomey as much less conservative than their voting records in Congress indicated. Meanwhile, GOP activists viewed Trump boosters as the most reliably conservative politicians. 

But Trump has also powerfully redefined what constitutes conservatism for rank-and-file Republican voters, according to my analyses of data from the Cooperative Election Survey — a massive academic survey administered by YouGov that asks over 50,000 respondents every two years to, among other things, rate politicians’ ideologies on a seven-point scale from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” 

According to CES data, Republicans nationwide now view Trump as more conservative than they did immediately before the 2016 general election. On the other hand, Utah Republicans perceived Sen. Mitt Romney as a lot less conservative after his February 2020 vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial. But that decline pales in comparison to the utter evaporation of former Rep. Liz Cheney’s conservative credentials. Wyoming Republicans repeatedly rated Cheney as a solid conservative in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Yet her reputation as a stalwart conservative vanished entirely after she voted to impeach Trump in January 2021 and subsequently became one of the former president’s most vocal critics in Congress as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection — so much so, that Wyoming Republicans placed her all the way on the liberal side of the ideological spectrum in the 2022 CES.

Romney and Cheney are not the only politicians whose conservative bona fides have been questioned after criticizing Trump. The seven Republican senators who voted to convict the former president during his second impeachment trial were all rated as much less conservative than we would otherwise expect from their Senate voting records, as measured by the first dimension of DW-NOMINATE — a political science metric that scores congressional voting records from -1 (most liberal) to 1 (most conservative). Even after we control for those voting records, Republican CES respondents, on average, rated the GOP senators who convicted Trump a full category (i.e., “middle of the road” instead of “somewhat conservative” or “conservative” instead of “very conservative”) more liberal than the senators who acquitted him on the CES’s seven-point ideological scale.

It certainly seems from these results, then, that Trump has not only reshaped the Republican Party in his own image; he has also redefined what it means to be a conservative. So, while an awful lot can change over the course of the primary campaign, it appears that Trump will garner disproportionate support from self-described “very conservative” Republicans in the 2024 primaries. Conservatism, after all, is becoming increasingly synonymous with Trumpism in the minds of GOP voters.


Are Black And Hispanic Americans Abandoning Biden?

President Biden has an enthusiasm problem — again. Since he kicked off his reelection bid in late April, asking Americans for another four years to “finish this job,” there’s been plenty of attention to his potential weaknesses among key voting blocs, particularly Black voters. New data from the 2022 midterm elections also reinforces earlier election analysis suggesting that turnout was down among Black and Hispanic Americans compared to the 2018 midterms, underscoring concerns that support for Biden could be slipping among voters of color.

We took a look at the numbers and found that yes, Biden’s approval has dropped dramatically among Black Americans since he took office in January 2021. But the biggest decline wasn’t among Black Americans: It was among Hispanic Americans. 

These approval trends, and other recent polls, suggest that while Biden does have reasons to be concerned about tepid interest among Black voters, his problems aren’t confined to this group. During the 2020 election, the Biden campaign was criticized for its flawed outreach to Hispanic voters, and key segments of this group, including Hispanic voters living in Miami and the Rio Grande Valley, went on to support former President Donald Trump in surprisingly high numbers. Hispanic Americans now may be even less supportive of Biden than Black Americans, exposing another vulnerability for the president as he heads into his reelection campaign. Biden’s approval has recently recovered slightly among Black Americans, though, rising from an average of about 60 percent approval in July 2022 to an average of around 70 percent in April 2023. That improvement coincided with growing optimism among Black Americans about the state of the economy, suggesting that Biden may be able to repair some damage among this key group — particularly if views on the economy continue to improve.

Biden’s overall approval rating has been underwater since the summer of 2021, falling during the botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and remaining low as inflation surged. Voters of color, in particular, seem disappointed with Biden’s performance, with favorability ratings falling more than 13 percentage points among Black and Hispanic Americans between the spring of 2021 and the spring of 2023.

Apart from the sour economy, voters of color have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with Biden’s first term. He came into office with a string of lofty promises — comprehensive federal voting rights legislation, police reform, clear pathways to citizenship for immigrants — none of which were enacted during his first two years in office, when Democrats controlled Congress. Now, with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, there’s little chance that these policies will pass, leaving Biden with broken promises to answer for. A recent Ipsos/Washington Post poll found that only 34 percent of Black Americans say that Biden’s policies have helped Black people, while 14 percent say they’ve hurt Black people and nearly half (49 percent) say they haven’t made a difference.

And there’s evidence from recent polls that some voters of color are less likely than Democrats overall to want Biden to run for reelection. For example, a YouGov/Economist poll conducted April 29 to May 2 found that less than half (46 percent) of Black respondents and only 37 percent of Hispanic respondents want Biden to run for a second term, compared to 54 percent of Democrats overall. Add that to the fact that Black turnout does seem to have fallen overall in the 2022 midterms, while Republicans maintained their 2020 levels of support among Latinos — plus a recent slew of anecdotal reporting about Black voters’ frustration with Biden — and it looks like a fairly bleak picture for the president. After all, Black voters were key to Biden’s primary victory back in 2020, and Trump’s inroads among Hispanic voters narrowed Democrats’ margins during the general election, prompting anxiety on the left about the future of the party’s diverse coalition if the trend continues. 

There are two separate worries here. One is that if voters of color are uninspired by Biden, they simply won’t turn out to vote. Democratic activists have long complained that mainstream candidates like Biden take voters of color for granted, assuming they will continue to vote for Democrats because the Republican Party ignores them at best and is openly hostile to them at worst. But of course, that’s not a fair assumption: People always have the option to simply not vote. And then there’s the possibility that some voters of color could actually flip to Republicans. That’s particularly true of Latinos, a complex constituency with plenty of reasons to consider Republican candidates.

But the situation isn’t as dreary for Biden as it appears — at least, when it comes to Black voters. For one thing, even if Black voters aren’t especially enthusiastic about the idea of a second Biden term, they haven’t soured on him personally. A YouGov/CBS News poll conducted from April 21-24 found that Black respondents are much likelier (at 76 percent) than Hispanic (55 percent) or white (42 percent) respondents to say they like how Biden handles himself personally. The same poll found that Black respondents (73 percent) are much likelier than white (52 percent) or Hispanic (48 percent) respondents to say they would feel “accepting” about Biden running for reelection, and less likely (13 percent) than white (22 percent) or Hispanic (23 percent) respondents to say they would be “disappointed.” 

Meanwhile, that YouGov/Economist poll suggests that Black voters continue to see Biden as the Democrats’ strongest candidate: The poll found that 50 percent of Black Americans believe that Biden is the strongest candidate Democrats could nominate for president in 2024, compared to 32 percent of Hispanic respondents and 22 percent of white respondents. And the bottom line from 2022 might not be as bad for Democrats as it seems, at least among Black voters — a recent analysis from the Democratic-leaning firm Catalist found that while Black turnout did fall, levels of Black support for Democrats increased in highly contested races in the South, where Black candidates were running for major offices and Democratic campaigns and organizations focused a significant amount of resources on getting out the vote. (On the other hand, a lack of investment among Black voters in other places may have hurt Democrats in at least one state — in the Wisconsin U.S. Senate election, only 84 percent of Black voters went for the Democrat, down from 90 percent in 2020.)

Part of Biden’s challenge is that perceptions of the success of his presidency are closely tied to how the economy is doing, which is something that’s very hard for the president to control directly. There are some signs that Black and Hispanic Americans’ outlook on the economy is improving — although it’s still far from rosy. A recent tracking poll from Civiqs shows that less than half (44 percent) of Black Americans say the current condition of the national economy is fairly bad or worse, down from around 57 percent in late June 2022. Hispanic Americans’ view of the economy is more negative, but it’s also improved since last summer.

So a lot could depend on what happens to the economy over the next year — especially whether inflation continues to slow, whether the country is able to avoid a recession caused by the federal government’s attempts to curb inflation and whether a debt ceiling deal goes through. If the economy improves, Biden will be in a stronger position overall, and voters of color may be less skeptical about whether he deserves a second term. But whatever happens, it’s clear that the Biden campaign will need to actively engage with Black and Hispanic voters if the president wants to maintain the Democratic Party’s diverse coalition in 2024.

Additional contributions from Ryan Best, Cooper Burton and Holly Fuong.


Where The Debt Ceiling Agreement Goes From Here

Over the weekend the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced an agreement to suspend the debt ceiling and make cuts to discretionary spending. The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Wednesday. According to the Treasury Department the US will run out of cash to pay its bills on June 5th, meaning the clock is ticking for the bill to pass the House, Senate and be signed by President Biden.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew talks about what’s in the agreement, why polls on the debt ceiling have been straight up contradictory and what could happen if the legislation isn’t passed by next Monday. They also discuss the significant increase in laws addressing sexuality and gender in Republican-led states and what Americans think about them. And Galen Speaks with Monica Potts about her new book, “The Forgotten Girls.”


Politics Podcast: There’s A Debt Ceiling Agreement … For Now

Over the weekend, the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced an agreement to suspend the debt ceiling and make cuts to discretionary spending. According to the Treasury Department, the U.S. will run out of cash to pay its bills on June 5, meaning the clock is ticking for the bill to pass the House, Senate and be signed by President Biden. The bill is expected to be taken up in the House on Wednesday.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew talks about what’s in the agreement, why polls on the debt ceiling have been straight-up contradictory and what could happen if the legislation isn’t passed by next Monday. They also discuss the significant increase in laws involving sexuality and gender in Republican-led states and what Americans think about them. And Galen speaks with senior writer Monica Potts about her new book, “The Forgotten Girls.”

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


Why Debt Ceiling Polls Keep Giving Us Conflicting Results

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly-ish polling roundup.

The White House and Speaker of the House have come to a tentative — though as yet unpassed — agreement for raising the debt ceiling. But does this agreement match what Americans have been hoping for in this crisis? Yes, it does. Also, no, it does not. 

If you think Congress and the White House have been divided on how to resolve the debt ceiling crisis, wait until you see what the American people think about it. Over the past few weeks, pollsters have attempted to capture where Americans stand on this contentious economic battle, and the results are as clear as mud.

This was illustrated quite dramatically last Tuesday, when two polls on the debt ceiling were released with wildly different results. In one, from SSRS/CNN, 60 percent of Americans said Congress shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling unless it cuts spending at the same time. In the other, from Marist/NPR/PBS NewsHour, 52 percent of Americans said Congress should raise the debt ceiling first and worry about spending cuts separately. The headline takeaways were in direct opposition: A majority of Americans say the debt ceiling should be raised with spending cuts … and also a majority of Americans say the debt ceiling should be raised without spending cuts.

These two polls are just the tip of the iceberg. For every recent poll finding on Americans’ views of the debt ceiling debate, there seemed to be a poll showing just the opposite. In a Data For Progress poll from May 3-4, a majority of likely voters (58 percent) said Congress should act as soon as possible to raise the debt ceiling and not “waste time” negotiating on spending. But in a TIPP/Issues & Insights poll from May 3-5, a plurality of Americans (46 percent) said Congress should raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts. Meanwhile, 58 percent of U.S. adults said debt payments and federal spending should be handled as separate issues, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted April 28-May 3. But then, 60 percent of registered voters said Congress should only raise the debt ceiling with spending restraints, according to a May 17-18 poll from Harris/Harvard CAPS.

OK, so Americans’ views on whether raising the debt ceiling should be tied to spending caps vary a lot by poll. But the one thing they can all agree on is that, one way or the other, the debt ceiling needs to be raised, right? Er … about that …

In a YouGov/Yahoo News survey from early May, 40 percent of Americans said they were in favor of raising the debt limit, while 35 percent were opposed and 25 percent were unsure. An Ipsos/Reuters poll conducted May 5-7 Uno-reverso’d those results — 43 percent of Americans supported raising the ceiling, while 54 percent opposed it. And when YouGov, in early May, tried presenting respondents with a more detailed explanation of what raising the debt ceiling entails before asking them if they supported or opposed it, Americans were evenly divided: 39 percent for raising the debt ceiling, 40 percent against it. 

Whew! OK, so — what the heck is going on?

First of all, this isn’t anything new: Congress has had debt limit fights in the past, and public opinion polling was just as conflicted then as it is now. Second, many of the discrepancies can be explained by simple differences in question wording. 

The wording of questions on the debt ceiling, even when ostensibly measuring the same sentiments, varied widely from poll to poll. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, the question about whether to raise the debt ceiling with or without spending cuts opened with a brief synopsis of the situation: “Congress typically passes legislation on a regular basis to allow the government to pay its debts. Without this step, the government could default on its debts.” That might have primed most respondents to say that the issues of debt payment and federal spending should be handled separately. Meanwhile, in the Harris/Harvard CAPS poll, the question led with, “The current size of the national debt is $31 trillion.” That might have steered respondents toward saying that Congress should raise the debt ceiling only with restraints on future spending.

The polls’ different samples may also have contributed to the different results. Some populations may be more engaged on the topic than others. For example, likely voters (like the ones queried by Data for Progress) might be likelier than all adults (like the ones queried by TIPP) to be aware of the consequences of a default. 

But perhaps the biggest factor is how complex of an issue the debt limit fight is — and how poorly many Americans understand it. Let’s go back to that YouGov poll from early May. The pollster quizzed respondents on the correct definition of the debt ceiling: Is it a limit on government spending or a limit on the government’s borrowing to finance spending that already has been approved? While about half of Americans (52 percent) correctly chose the latter definition, a quarter chose the incorrect one, and another 18 percent said they weren’t sure.

Furthermore, in a Monmouth University poll conducted May 18-23 — just last week! — fewer than half of Americans (45 percent) said they had heard “a lot” about the debt ceiling debate, while 40 percent had heard “a little” and 15 percent had heard “nothing at all.” And in an Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted May 11-15, just 21 percent of U.S. adults said they were following the negotiations over the debt ceiling “extremely closely” or “very closely,” and 20 percent said they understood the situation “extremely well” or “very well.” 

Instead, partisan breakdowns of the polling results show many Americans’ views line up with their party’s perspective. Given how volatile the results are, and the fact that few Americans say they are following the topic closely or understand it well, this suggests Americans don’t have strong, fixed opinions on this issue, making them even more susceptible to partisan messaging. 

Other polling bites

  • Amid recent reporting that has raised questions (and prompted a Senate inquiry) about ethical standards on the Supreme Court, just-released polling results from last year show public confidence in the high court reached an all-time low in 2022. Just 18 percent of U.S. adults said they had a “great deal” of confidence in the Supreme Court, while 46 percent said they had “some” and 36 percent said “hardly any,” according to the General Social Survey by the Associated Press/NORC. This is the lowest confidence level since the GSS began tracking confidence in the court in 1973. Justice Clarence Thomas (who is at the center of the ethics scandals), in particular, is unpopular. A recent Marquette Law School poll found Thomas had a net favorability of -11 percentage points, making him the least popular justice on the court.
  • Despite inflation slowing for the 10th month in a row in April, more Americans say they’re feeling the pinch of rising prices. Sixty-one percent of Americans said recent price increases have caused a financial hardship for their household, according to a Gallup poll conducted April 3-17. This is up 6 points since the last time Gallup surveyed on this question in November 2022 and is the highest since the pollster started asking in November 2021. Lower-income Americans were more likely than middle- and upper-income Americans to report that price increases have caused a hardship, and they were also more likely to report that the hardship is severe enough to affect their ability to maintain their standard of living. 
  • Former President Donald Trump’s supporters have an image problem, according to a TIPP/Issues & Insights poll from May 3-5. When asked whether they “agree or disagree with describing Trump supporters as MAGA extremists,” 50 percent of U.S. adults agreed, including 24 percent of Republicans. 
  • The majority of Americans say they’ve never taken any psychedelics … but those who have tried magic mushrooms say they had a pretty good time. A YouGov survey conducted May 16-19 asked U.S. adults if they had ever tried LSD (acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA, DMT, mescaline (peyote), Ketamine, or Salvia. Sixty-eight percent said they hadn’t tried any of the psychedelics, while 12 percent had tried acid, 12 percent had tried ’shrooms and 10 percent had taken MDMA. But among those who had tried psilocybin, 83 percent said they had a somewhat or very positive experience. As more states consider legalizing or decriminalizing certain psychedelics such as psilocybin, perhaps these numbers will shift. (Or if you’re currently on a psychedelic, they might be shifting all over the room right now.) 

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 54.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -13.3 points). At this time last week, 42.1 percent approved and 53.5 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11.3 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.5 points.


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