PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance.
The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession.
The current results are based on a Dec. 10-12 Gallup poll, conducted as Congress is finishing work on an important lame-duck session. The session has been highlighted by the agreement on taxes forged last week by President Obama and Republicans in Congress. The tax deal preserves the 2001 and 2003 income tax rates for all Americans for two years, revises the estate tax, extends unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed for a year, and reduces payroll taxes for American workers. It is expected to pass despite vocal opposition from some lawmakers.
Americans are generally more positive than negative toward the deal, but many Democrats in Congress oppose it.
Frustration with the tax deal among Democrats in the general population could be a major reason for Americans' historically low approval rating of Congress. That frustration could be opposition to the bill's particulars or frustration with the Democrats in Congress opposing the president's deal. Democrats' approval of Congress is down significantly, to 16% now, from 29% in November. The November poll was conducted after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for 2011-2012 in the midterm elections, so the drop in this month's numbers is not a reaction to the Democrats' midterm losses.
Meanwhile, independents' and Republicans' ratings of Congress are down similar to November.
For the year, Congress averaged 19% approval among all Americans, tied with the averages for 1979 and 2008, and one percentage point above the 18% average for 1992. Those years were all marked by difficult economic times for the United States.
Despite the historic lows, the prospects for a recovery in Congress' approval ratings in the short term appear good, based on what Gallup has measured in the past when control of Congress changed hands. Gallup documented a 10-point increase in Congress' approval rating from December 1994 to January 1995 after the Republicans officially took control of the House and Senate after the 1994 midterm elections. There was a larger 14-point increase in congressional approval ratings after the Democrats' taking control of Congress in January 2007.
Both increases were fueled by spikes in congressional approval among supporters of the new majority party.
Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work. That frustration seems to be taken out more on the Democratic congressional majority than on the president, whose approval rating has been relatively stable between 44% and 46% since the election among all Americans, and between 78% and 81% among Democrats.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 10-12, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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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