PRINCETON, NJ -- New USA Today/Gallup approval ratings of the two major parties in Congress show the Democrats faring slightly better than the Republicans, in line with the pattern in recent years. Thirty-six percent of Americans interviewed Sept. 11-13 approve of how the Democrats in Congress are doing their job; 27% approve of the Republicans. However, both parties' ratings are down significantly from earlier this year, returning them to the record-low levels seen in 2007 and 2008.
The low point for the Democrats in Congress came in December 2007, when 30% approved; a low of 25% approved of the Republicans in December 2008 (with the Democrats' ratings marginally improved from 2007). The ratings surged in February of this year (to 47% for the Democrats and 36% for the Republicans) but declined in March and have now declined further.
Republicans Discouraged With Party's Performance
A key reason for congressional Republicans' depressed ratings in recent months is that rank-and-file Republicans' support for their own party in Congress has descended to unprecedented depths.
"Americans' ratings of the two major parties in Congress are at or near their worst levels in a decade, in part because of heightened Republican discontent with both sides in Congress."
Although overall approval of the Republicans in Congress is about the same today as it was in December 2008, support among Republicans has dropped from 52% to 39%. At the same time, approval among Democrats has increased from 9% to 20%, helping to keep the overall rating from setting a new low. Remarkably, an outright majority of Republicans today (58%) say they disapprove of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing.
By contrast, since December there has been a slight increase in support for the Democrats in Congress from rank-and-file Democrats (from 60% to 67%) and a corresponding decline in support from Republicans (from 18% to 10%).
The 39% approval rating Republicans give to their own party in Congress is the lowest such reading in Gallup trends dating to 1999.
Independents today give slightly higher approval ratings to the Democrats in Congress than to the Republicans, as is typically the case. However, independents' assessments of the Democrats have grown more negative between March and the Sept. 11-13 poll, falling from 36% to 28%. At the same time, independents' ratings of Republicans held steady. As a result, the gap in independents' views of the two parties is narrower now than it has been in recent polls.
Congress' Overall Job Rating Steady
Earlier this month, Gallup found 31% of Americans approving of the job Congress as a whole is doing, which is about the midpoint between the ratings Americans give the two parties individually (as reviewed above). Congressional approval was also 31% in August, and has registered in the low 30s since June.
At 31%, public approval of Congress is down from earlier this year, and certainly much lower than President Obama's recent job ratings. However, the average 32% approval of Congress seen thus far in 2009 is significantly better than the 19% recorded in 2008, and higher than the 25%-27% ratings seen in 2006 and 2007.
More importantly, approval of Congress today is only slightly below the average 36% rating found across the past two decades. Low public approval of Congress is the norm, and the 111th Congress is performing at just below par.
Congress' overall job approval rating is slightly lower than average for the past two decades, but still exceeds the much lower ratings recorded from 2006 through 2008 (as well as in the early 1990s). By contrast, Americans' ratings of the two major parties in Congress are at or near their worst levels in a decade, in part because of heightened Republican discontent with both. Approval ratings of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are also low among independents.
Positive ratings of both sides of the aisle in Congress surged earlier this year, most likely due to the burst in public optimism around the new Obama presidency, but the surge in ratings has since subsided.
That Republicans in 2009 would be less approving of the Democrats in Congress, now that the Democrats have the backing of a Democratic president to help advance their legislative goals, is not surprising. Republicans' unparalleled criticism of the Republicans in Congress is less expected, but perhaps stems from frustration with their party's failure to stave off more of the Democratic agenda. Independents' low approval of both parties could be seen as a particularly troubling sign for the Democratic majority if it continues in 2010.
Overall Congress approval results are based on telephone interviews with 1,026 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Congressional party approval ratings are based on telephone interviews with 1,030 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 11-13, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
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.