PRINCETON, NJ -- Congress' approval rating is down to 18% after being in the 20% range the first two months of the year, and is essentially back to where it was just after last November's midterm elections.
Americans' opinions of Congress have not been very positive historically, with an average 34% approval rating since Gallup began tracking this measure in 1974. But the recent approval ratings for Congress have been among the lowest in Gallup's 37-year trend. Since 2008, Congress' approval rating has been below 20% in 15 of 39 months, including a record-low 13% last December.
The election of the new Congress in November brought about an opportunity for Congress' ratings to improve, as they did the last two times a change in party control occurred, in 1995 and 2007.
Between December 2010 and February 2011, Congress' approval rating increased a total of 10 points, slightly less than the increases from December 1994 to February 1995 (14 points) and December 2006 to February 2007 (16 points).
In all three instances, though, Congress' approval rating receded by the third month of the new Congress.
Independents Are Least Approving of Congress
The current split control of Congress, with Republicans the majority party in the House of Representatives and Democrats the majority party in the Senate, may be behind the unusual pattern of similar approval ratings by party that Gallup has observed so far this year. Now, 20% of both Republicans and Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing. Independents' ratings are slightly lower, at 15%.
Since February, ratings among all three party groups are down, with the drop greatest among independents.
Though Congress' ratings remain depressed, they did improve when the 112th Congress took office in January. However, as has been the case in prior congressional power shifts, those more positive feelings toward the institution were fairly brief, with approval ratings declining in the third month.
Congress faces much difficult work in the coming months, most notably agreeing on budgets for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. Both parties have expressed a desire to rein in federal spending, but they disagree on how much to cut and which programs to target. If Congress remains at an impasse on the budgets, its already-low rating could threaten the all-time low from December.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 3-6, 2011, with a random sample of 1,021 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 2010 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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