In a time marked by widening political differences across the country and growing ideological acrimony, it’s probably no surprise to anyone that politicians and other government officials have come under increasing critical scrutiny.
In a new I&I/TIPP Poll, we asked Americans which of four prominent public officials now making headlines should retire or leave office. Turns out, it’s all of them.
Poll respondents were asked the following question: “Should the following officials retire soon or continue?” People were then given the names of four major public officials: Republican Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chief Presidential Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
All of those named, it should be noted, have come under intense public pressure from both political interest groups, activists and media pundits to either retire or resign.
Do ordinary Americans agree?
None of the four emerge unscathed in the poll. But those on this list who serve in Congress fared far worse than the others, with a sizable number of Americans in all three political groupings — Democrat, Republican and Independent/other — saying they’d like new leadership for their party in Congress.
Mitch McConnell has become a lightning rod of sorts for criticism from all sides, so, not surprisingly, he gets the biggest response. Overall, 59% of those queried said he should quit as Senate minority leader, while 17% said no and fully 25% said “not sure.”
But his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, isn’t far behind. Overall, 56% of those who responded to the poll want her to leave, versus 27% who don’t and 17% not sure.
What’s perhaps surprising for both is the number in their own parties who want them to go. For McConnell, the number for Republicans is 53% vs. 23% who say no, while Democrats (66% yes, 23% no) and independents (57% vs. 15%) aren’t too very different.
Pelosi’s numbers are better, in that a slender plurality of her own party want her to stay on: (41% say she should retire, vs. 43% who say she shouldn’t). Still, that 41% number is quite large, and indicates significant discontent within her own party with her leadership.
But the California Democrat does far worse among Republicans (80% vs. 12%) and independents (59% vs. 20%).
The bottom line is, both McConnell and Pelosi serve at the behest of their respective parties. Neither has absolute power and both have strong voting support in their home states. Only if one or the other is perceived by their own congressional memberships as a danger to the party’s electoral hopes for 2022 will they be pressured to leave.
So will one or the other yield and retire? Watch the polls.
That leaves two others mentioned in the poll: the controversial COVID czar Fauci, and less-well-known but no-less-influential Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
The once-obscure medical bureaucrat Fauci has vaulted to prominence in public opinion for his COVID-19 policies, in particular those related to his controversial stances on lockdowns, masking and vaccine mandates.
A slim plurality of Americans, 41% “yes” to 39% “no,” want Fauci to retire. That’s not a majority and the “no’ vote is within the poll’s standard of error with the “yes” vote.
But that doesn’t mean Fauci is out of the woods.
Popular opinion about COVID-19 has become sharply polarized, leading recently even to mass protest marches in the nation’s capital. Most recently, an NBC poll found that 44% of Americans don’t trust what the Centers for Disease Control says about COVID, down from 55% in August of 2020.
And a Rasmussen Poll reported a shocking result: 45% of Democrats in the poll said they would support internment camps for the unvaccinated, while 59% would support home lockdowns. 78% of Republicans and 64% of independent voters opposed such measures.
With that as political background, it should come as no great revelation that opinion on Fauci, the very public face of President Joe Biden’s anti-COVID policies, is split along political lines as well.
Just 28% of Democrats want Fauci to retire, while 57% want him to stay. For Republicans, 64% would like Fauci to retire, just 21% want him to stay. Independents stand at a plurality of 41% retire, 32% stay. In short, a national referendum on Fauci staying on or being forced to retire office would be close.
In the case of Justice Breyer, recent battles over Supreme Court packing and the fact that former President Trump in his four years named three new high court members has made the 83-year-old jurist a target by the left.
Still, the Bill Clinton appointee is generally considered part of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
As they did with the late Justice Ruth Ginsburg, the Democratic Party’s far left have pushed hard for the moderate liberal Breyer to quit so that his spot on the court can be taken by a younger, presumably farther-left replacement named by President Biden.
In particular, Democrats have been incensed over Breyer’s recent comments about collegial relations with conservative justices and over his opposition to Democrats’ court-packing scheme.
No one, it seems, is overly enthused about him leaving, although a small plurality across the board think it might be a good idea. Overall, 32% say yes, he should retire, while 25% say no. “Not sure,” however, is the biggest response, at 42%.
At 38% vs. 25%, a plurality of Democrats say they’d like to see Breyer retire. The comparable numbers for the Republicans are 30% to 29%, while independents come in at 29% to 24%. And “unsure” is again a big number for all three groups: Democrats (26%), Republicans (29%) and independents (24%).
In short, there is no real groundswell of public opinion to have Breyer retire from the Supreme Court.
These data come from the I&I/TIPP Poll, conducted online from Jan. 5-8 and including responses from 1,305 adults from across the country. Keep in mind the poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
In the coming weeks and months, I&I/TIPP will continue to provide timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of interest. TIPP has distinguished itself by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.