Just 18% approve of job Congress is doing
by Jeffrey M. Jones&textcolor=#8a1e04&hovercolor=#ff0000&linkcolor=#8a1e04&w=118&h=23" quality="best" src="http://www.cagop.org/webart/MinionProMediumCondensed.swf" height="23" width="118">
by Jeffrey M. Jones
PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds Congress' approval rating the lowest it has been since Gallup first tracked public opinion of Congress with this measure in 1974. Just 18% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76% disapprove, according to the August 13-16, 2007, Gallup Poll.
That 18% job approval rating matches the low recorded in March 1992, when a check-bouncing scandal was one of several scandals besetting Congress, leading many states to pass term limits measures for U.S. representatives (which the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional). Congress had a similarly low 19% approval rating during the energy crisis in the summer of 1979.
Americans' evaluations of the job Congress is doing are usually not that positive -- the vast majority of historical approval ratings have been below 50%. The high point was 84% approval one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Americans rallied behind the federal government. Since then, Congress' approval ratings have generally exhibited the same downward trajectory seen in those for President George W. Bush. Currently, 32% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a far cry from the record-high 90% he received in September 2001. Bush's current job approval rating is just three percentage points above his lowest.
There was a slight interruption in the downward trend in congressional approval ratings at the beginning of this year when party control changed hands from the Republicans to the Democrats following last fall's midterm elections. In January 2007, 35% of Americans approved of Congress, a significant increase from the 21% who approved of Congress in December 2006. That December rating tied the lowest in the 12 years the Republicans controlled Congress from 1995 to 2006.
But that "honeymoon" period for the new Democratically controlled Congress was brief, as its job ratings dropped below 30% in March 2007 and have now fallen below where they were just before the Democrats took over.
Frustration with Congress spans the political spectrum. There are only minor (but not statistically meaningful) differences in the approval ratings Democrats (21%), Republicans (18%), and independents (17%) give to Congress. Typically, partisans view Congress much more positively when their party is in control of the institution, so the fact that Democrats' ratings are not materially better than Republicans' is notable.
The nine-point drop in Congress' job approval rating from last month to this month has come exclusively from Democrats and independents, with Democrats' ratings dropping 11 points (from 32% to 21%) and independents' ratings dropping 13 points (from 30% to 17%). Republicans' 18% approval rating is unchanged from last month.
The decline in congressional job approval could merely reflect the cessation of any public good will it engendered when the new leadership arrived in January, since the current 18% rating is similar to what it was in December 2006 (21%).
But, it could also reflect disappointment with the new Congress' performance (especially among Democrats) and economic unease.
Americans elected the Democrats as the majority party in Congress in November 2006's midterm election in large part due to frustration with the Iraq war and an ineffective and scandal-plagued Republican-led Congress. But any hopes that the elections would lead to change have not been realized as Democrats' repeated attempts to force a change in Iraq war policy have been largely unsuccessful due to presidential vetoes, disagreements within their own party, and the inability to attract Republican support for their policy proposals. Also, many of the Democratic leadership's domestic agenda items have not become law even though some have passed one or both houses of Congress.
As the trend in congressional approval makes clear, ratings of Congress usually suffer during times of economic uncertainty, as during the late 1970s and early 1990s. While Americans' ratings of current economic conditions are not near historical lows, there is a great deal of concern about the direction in which the economy is headed. The latest poll finds a record 72% of Americans saying the economy is "getting worse."
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted August 13-16, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.