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Democrats Turn More Negative Toward Congress

Democrats Turn More Negative Toward Congress

PRINCETON, NJ -- Congress' job approval rating from Americans fell six points in the past month, from 24% to 18% -- the lowest reading in more than a year. Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) now disapprove.

Congressional Approval, January 2009-February 2010

This decline in congressional approval is largely explained by a sharp drop in approval among rank-and-file Democrats, from 45% in January to 30% today. The slight changes in approval among Republicans and independents are not statistically significant.

Congressional Approval, 2010 Trend

In a related finding, among ideological groups, approval of Congress is down mainly among liberals (from 40% in January to 24% today). Support from moderates was already fairly low, at 28%, and is now 21%. There has been no change in approval among conservatives, at 14%.

Looking at the partisan trends on congressional approval since the start of last year, it is clear that Democrats' support for the body was restored shortly after President Barack Obama was sworn in, rising from 18% in January 2009 to 43% in February. It rose further to 57% in March and remained at or above 50% for the next several months. However, Democrats' approval of Congress subsequently withered (with a brief dip to 36% last fall), and now stands at its lowest level since Obama took office.

Approval of Congress has consistently been below 20% among Republicans and independents for several months.

Approval of Congress by Party ID, January 2009-February 2010

The new poll was conducted Feb. 1-3, shortly after Obama's Jan. 27 State of the Union address in which he leveled several criticisms at Congress (and particularly the Senate) for failing to advance his legislative agendas on healthcare, banking, jobs, energy, and other issues. He also pointedly called on both parties to support greater transparency for congressional earmarks and to tone down their partisanship.

The all-time low Gallup reading on congressional approval is 14%, recorded in July 2008. Prior to this, 18% was the lowest in Gallup's history of asking this question, which dates to 1974. In addition to the current measure, congressional approval was at 18% for several months in 2008 as well as in March 1992. It was only slightly higher in June 1979 (19%) and October 1994 (21%).

Congressional Approval -- Full Trend, 1974-2010

Bottom Line

Congress enjoyed a bump in public approval at the start of last year as the Obama administration was getting underway -- fueled mostly by enhanced approval among Democrats and independents. Nearly all of that heightened support among independents had peeled off by last fall, and now Democrats are breaking away.

President Obama's State of the Union speech may help explain Democrats' heightened displeasure with Congress. With 86% of Democrats nationwide approving of the job Obama is doing as president in the latest poll, the president's words clearly carry a great deal of weight with them: if Obama appears to be frustrated with Congress (albeit Democrat controlled), then many Democrats will follow suit. Still, it is not clear whether Democrats' disapproval of Congress is directed more at the Republicans (for obstructing Obama's agenda) or more at the Democrats (for allowing it to languish). That is something Gallup will explore in future polling.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,025 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 1-3, 2010. 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.

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