The FINANCIAL — Arizona Sen. John McCain’s favorable rating is 58% after he cast the vote that sank GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That is five points higher than McCain’s previous reading from August 2015, with a surge in Democratic favorability more than making up for a decline among McCain’s fellow Republicans.
The results are based on an Aug. 2-6 Gallup poll, conducted shortly after McCain returned to the Senate from his home in Arizona after having emergency surgery and finding out he had an aggressive form of brain cancer. The return of the self-described “maverick” was eventful, as he joined with two Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents to oppose the latest — and, for now, final — GOP attempt to repeal “Obamacare.”
Additionally, since Gallup last measured opinions about McCain, he and Donald Trump have had a contentious relationship that includes disagreement on many policy issues and Trump’s criticism of McCain for being captured in the Vietnam War.
Democrats now view McCain much more positively than they did two years ago, with their 71% favorable ratings representing a 22-percentage-point increase since then. Republicans’ opinions have grown more negative, though their 10-point decline (from 61% to 51%) is about half as large as the Democratic increase. Independents’ opinions of McCain are virtually the same as they were two years ago.
The net effect of these changes is that McCain’s 58% favorable rating among all Americans is improved from 2015 and is his best since a 64% reading in November 2008, shortly after he lost the presidential election to Democrat Barack Obama. Since Gallup first asked about him in 1999, McCain’s favorable rating has been as high as 67%, including in March 2008 after he clinched the Republican presidential nomination and in February 2000 after he defeated George W. Bush in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
Patterns of Party Support for McCain Highly Unusual
The Democratic and Republican shifts in opinions of McCain have created a rare instance in which a politician receives better ratings from supporters of the opposition party than from his own party’s base.
Gallup has documented only one other case in which a politician had significantly higher ratings from the opposition party than from his own party. McCain’s friend and former Senate colleague, Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, had higher ratings among Republicans than Democrats in two 2006 polls.
Lieberman’s consistent support for the Iraq War was at odds with most elected Democrats’ views, and his pro-war positions caused Democratic identifiers to sour on him while Republicans came to view him positively. By July 2006, when the incumbent Lieberman was engaged in a spirited primary campaign he ultimately lost, Republicans rated Lieberman better than Democrats did.
The last time Gallup measured opinions of Lieberman, in September 2006 after he decided to seek re-election to his seat as an independent, 53% of Republicans and 35% of Democrats rated him favorably.
For most of Gallup’s trend on McCain, the typical partisan pattern has held, with Republicans rating him more positively than Democrats have. However, from 2001 through mid-2006, the time in between his two presidential bids, Republicans and Democrats gave McCain roughly similar favorable ratings.
After McCain won the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, his ratings were the most politically polarized of his career, including a 71-point party difference in the final pre-election poll, when 93% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of him. Wide partisan gaps in views of presidential nominees are the norm.
Since the 2008 election, Republicans’ favorable ratings have returned to more normal levels for the senator. However, the current 51% of Republicans rating him favorably ties for the lowest by that group since he became a well-known national figure in late 1999. Meanwhile, Democrats’ 71% rating is their highest for McCain to date.
McCain’s decision to oppose the latest Obamacare repeal effort has endeared him to many Democrats while turning off some Republicans. His ongoing battles with Trump may be producing a similar effect. Now, Democrats, just 22% of whom viewed McCain favorably when he faced Obama in the 2008 election, rate him much more positively than Republicans do. Overall, McCain remains fairly popular and slightly more so than his average favorability of 54% since 1999.
Given the unique nature of McCain’s ratings by party, it is unclear how long he can sustain his high ratings among Democrats. He has voted against his party on occasion — most notably on campaign finance reform — but in the past, Democrats’ ratings of McCain were at best on par with those of Republicans. Ultimately, how much McCain’s recent actions stand out in partisans’ memories compared with other things he has done over the past two decades will determine their opinions about him.