After a bruising 4-day, 15-vote battle over who would assume the House speakership, some pundits said the infighting would hurt the Republican Party.

But a new nationwide poll of 915 registered voters conducted by HarrisX for Deseret News shows the party and new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy managed to come through the week pretty unscathed. And voters seem to think the Republican dissenters may have had a point. 

“The speakership fight does not seem to have harmed the GOP with its base or general voters, although voters believe the incoming speaker is weaker, at least temporarily, because of it,” said Dritan Nesho, CEO and chief researcher at HarrisX. “Voters are chalking up this fight to the dysfunction of Congress and the loss in trust that they have with the leadership and institutions guiding Congress and the executive in general.”

Added Nesho: “In fact, Republicans say they have gained trust in the party and the party has gained strength because of the fight. A plurality believe the GOP congressional holdouts were justified in their position and asks — as are a majority of 54% of those who paid attention to the fight.” 

This year’s speakership race was historic — it had been 100 years since a vote for speaker had gone to a second ballot, let alone a 15th. While the Republican conference’s indecision played out on C-SPAN and cable news, only half of all voters said they were paying attention, according to the poll which was conducted on Jan. 9-10. 

That may one of the reasons why 56% of voters said the drawn-out speakership debate was just “politics as usual” — including 8 out of 10 Republican voters and 3 out of 5 independent voters — versus 44% who said it exposed something wrong with the Republican Party. In response to a separate question about whether the debate uncovered something wrong with Congress, 2/3 of voters said it did. 

Republicans may have largely escaped disapproval because of general voter distrust in Congress as an institution and because voters have come to expect some level of dysfunction. Questions in the poll related to opinions about Congress elicited the most negative responses.

Voters showed a level of sympathy for the 20 Republican holdouts. A plurality of voters, or 40%, said they were justified in their actions, while 32% said they weren’t justified and 28% said they didn’t know. Of those who said they paid attention to the debate, 57% said they were justified.

The dissenters were eventually convinced to vote for McCarthy — or to vote present, lowering the threshold for a winning vote — after he promised to make significant changes to House rules, opening up the legislative process to greater involvement by rank and file members, and reducing the power of the speaker’s office. McCarthy’s concessions included allowing one member to call for a vote on the speaker, the restoration of amendments on appropriations bills and a requirement that bills be public for 72-hours before a vote is called. The rules were approved by the House on Monday. 

While McCarthy may have weakened himself through his concessions, his willingness to compromise may have helped him among Republican voters.

Three-in-five Republicans said McCarthy was right to continue to hold votes until he won the speakership. And a plurality of voters said despite the multiple days it took to elect a speaker, their trust in Kevin McCarthy either increased, at 21%, or it had no impact, at 26%, while 39% of voters said it made them trust him less. Among Republicans, 34% said the multi-day negotiations made them trust McCarthy more, while 27% said it had no impact, and 26% said it made them trust him less. 

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A Deseret News/HarrisX poll conducted in November showed McCarthy did not have much support at that point from voters in his own party, likely because of the GOP’s disappointing showing in the midterms. Among Republicans, 35% said McCarthy should maintain his role as a party leader, while 33% of Republicans said the party should move on. 

But McCarthy’s willingness to negotiate with party dissidents, and his doggedness during the 15 ballots may have ultimately helped boost his popularity among Republican voters. Given how narrow a majority Republicans hold in the House, it looked improbable that he could overcome the objections of dissenters. While many were calling for him to step aside, McCarthy maintained his position that he was the one who could unite his warring conference.

There were some voters — 43% — who said the prolonged process made them trust the Republican Party less, including 39% of independent voters. Among those who said they lost trust, 30% said it was because nothing productive was being done, while 28% said it showed division within the party, and 20% said it showed the party can be swayed by a small group of lawmakers. Republicans and independents who expressed distrust were more likely to say it was because the prolonged negotiations showed division within the party, while Democrats were more likely to say it was because of Congress’ lack of productivity.