In 'fiscal cliff' fight, Obama gets better marks than Boehner

President Obama's approval rating is at a three-year high; Speaker Boehner's is at an all-time low, and a majority of Americans view the GOP as too extreme. Is Boehner's position in danger?

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House John Boehner, joined by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the Capitol in Washington, Friday.

If you picture the “fiscal cliff” struggle between the Democratic White House and the Republican House of Representatives as hand-to-hand political combat between the President and Speaker John Boehner, you’d have to score it as advantage Obama by a wide margin.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at a three-year high. Mr. Boehner’s is at an all-time low – even lower than Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker Boehner ousted when Republicans took over the House in 2010. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans now say the GOP is too extreme.

Depending on what happens with the automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts that define the fiscal cliff just ten days off, that could change, of course. Public attitudes toward Washington are never very far from “a pox on both your houses.”

But as the Obama family headed to Hawaii and lawmakers scattered for what’s likely to be a truncated holiday break, the latest polls are a lump of coal in the Republican Christmas stocking.

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Fifty-three percent of those surveyed in a new CNN/ORC International poll say they view the policies of the GOP as too extreme, up 17 points from two years ago. Only 37 percent say they view the policies of the Democratic Party as too extreme.

“According to the survey, 53 percent say the GOP should compromise more, with 41 percent saying the Democratic Party should give up more of the proposals it supports to develop bipartisan solutions,” CNN reports

"That's due in part to the fact that the Republican brand is not doing all that well," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

This same survey shows just 34 percent feeling good about the job Boehner is doing – 18 points lower than Obama’s job approval rating.

"Small wonder that nearly half say they have more confidence in President Obama than in the congressional Republicans and that nearly half (48 percent) would blame the GOP if the fiscal cliff occurs," says Mr. Holland.

(Thirty-seven percent said they would blame the president more, with 11 percent saying they would blame both sides equally if they don’t find a way to avoid the fiscal cliff.)

Meanwhile, the Rasmussen polling organization reported Friday, “House Speaker John Boehner has now unseated his Democratic predecessor Nancy Pelosi as the least-liked major congressional leader, a title Pelosi has held for several years.”

Rasmussen’s new national telephone survey finds that 51 percent of likely voters now view Boehner unfavorably, while 50 percent feel that way about Pelosi. Just 31 percent have a favorable opinion of the Ohio congressman, compared to 37 percent who look favorably on the San Francisco Democrat, Rasmussen reports.

A question for the GOP is whether it’s the message or the main messenger – Boehner – that’s the problem.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that it’s the message.

“A majority of Americans (53 percent) say the Republicans’ problem is that they are overly conservative and unconcerned ‘with the welfare of the people, particularly those in the lower and middle income levels’,” reports the Post “By contrast, 38 percent say the bigger issue is that Republicans ‘need a better leader to explain and win support’ for their policies.”

Partisan differences here are worth noting.

“In the new poll, nearly two-thirds of self-described Republicans see insufficient leadership and explanation of policies as the reason the party has endured a string of popular vote defeats,” writes the Post’s Chris Cillizza. “About eight in 10 Democrats take the opposing view – that the issue with the GOP is that it is too conservative from a policy perspective – as do a slim majority of political independents.”

Does that mean Boehner’s position as Speaker is in danger?

“There's plenty of internal grumbling about the Ohio Republican, especially among conservatives, and lots of buzzing about whether his leadership post is in jeopardy,” writes the AP’s Alan Fram. “But it's uncertain whether any other House Republican has the broad appeal to seize the job from Boehner or whether his embarrassing inability to pass his own bill preventing tax increases on everyone but millionaires is enough to topple him.”

CNN reports one piece of good news for the Republicans in its survey: “Most Americans say that it's good for the country that the GOP controls the House, an indication that the public would not like to see the Democrats with unchecked power in Washington.”

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