Do GOP voters want Boehner out as speaker?

A new poll shows a big majority of GOP voters would prefer Representative Boehner lose his post as speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes next week. But is his job actually in danger?

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio goes into a closed-door meeting with the GOP caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 10, 2014.

Is John Boehner’s speakership doomed? You might think that from the way conservatives are cheering a new poll that shows a big majority of GOP voters would prefer Representative Boehner of Ohio lose his leadership post.

In the EMC Research survey, 60 percent of Republicans polled said that, if it was up to them, they would definitely or probably vote for someone other than Boehner as speaker when the new Congress convenes next week. Only 25 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for Boehner’s intramural reelection.

“This poll proves Republicans are tired of the constant war against conservatives and Speaker Boehner has lost the confidence of those he is intending to lead this Congress,” said Daniel Horowitz, senior editor of Conservative Review, in response.

That’s certainly possible. Many conservatives remain outraged at the passage of a long term budget that (mostly) avoids confronting President Obama, particularly on his executive actions on immigration. But it doesn’t prove that there’s going to actually be a change in the House hierarchy. Right now, if anything Boehner looks to be in less danger than he did when he ran for speaker reelection in 2013.

Dave Weigel at Bloomberg Politics runs the numbers. Take the incumbent GOP members who voted against Boehner last time, add all new lawmakers who have pledged to vote for someone else as speaker, and you’re still five votes short of deposing Boehner as speaker.

“He would seem to be in the clear,” writes Mr. Weigel.

Plus, it’s possible the poll reflects only a generalized discontent, as opposed to a particularized desire for Boehner’s displacement.

Look at it this way: The same survey shows that Boehner’s favorable numbers are pretty good. Forty-three percent of respondents say they have a favorable opinion of the current speaker, while 34 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

And he’s not matched against a real politician in a head-to-head match-up. The poll question only asks if “someone new” should fill the speaker’s post. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post’s Fix political blog points out, all congressional leaders are unpopular. Replacing them with some undefined presumably-perfect replacement will sound pretty good to lots of voters, in the abstract.

“If you matched up Boehner against a real-life politician, though, you’re likely to get a very different answer. Somebody should poll that,” Mr. Blake writes.

None of this means Boehner is in a great position. There’s a lot of angst about his leadership within the caucus and among general Republican voters. But it’s tough to replace someone with nobody. He won’t be in real trouble until a credible GOP alternate starts running hard for the job.

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