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Amid Debt Clash, Approval of Parties in Congress Low but Steady

Amid Debt Clash, Approval of Parties in Congress Low but Steady

PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite Americans' harsh critiques of the political motives of each party in the debt ceiling battle, their overall job approval ratings of President Barack Obama, the Republicans in Congress, and the Democrats in Congress are about where they have been over the past year, albeit quite low.

Percentage Approving of Leaders' Overall Job Performance, February 2009-July 2011

Obama's 45% approval rating in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, as well as congressional Democrats' 33% rating and the Republicans' 28%, are all statistically similar to their ratings in contemporaneous surveys since August 2010. These ratings also approach the low points of approval for each. Obama's lowest approval in all Gallup polling since his taking office in 2009 was 41%. Since Gallup's first measurement of the congressional parties in June 1999, the low for Republicans in Congress has been 25% and for the Democrats, 30%.

Congressional Democrats' slightly higher current job approval rating compared with the GOP's stems from the higher percentage of Democrats than of Republicans approving of their own party's job performance, 73% vs. 57%. The two parties receive similarly low approval from independents, registering just over 20%. Both receive single-digit approval ratings from those who identify with the opposite party.

Leaders' Approval Ratings by Party ID, July 2011

Obama Leads on Putting the Country's Interests First

None of the three major players' motives in the budget negotiations receives good reviews, but Obama fares better than the other two. Whereas most Americans think congressional Democrats and Republicans are each putting their own political interests first, Americans are about evenly divided between those saying Obama is putting the country's best interests first and those saying he is putting his own political interests first.

Republicans fare worst on this measure, with 72% of Americans believing politics is primary for the GOP, compared with 65% saying this about the Democrats and 49% about Obama.

Perceived Approach to Debt Ceiling Negotiations, July 2011

Half Say President and Congress Doing Worse Job Than in Past

Americans are closely split over whether the nation's leaders are performing worse than their predecessors in trying to solve the nation's problems. About half, 49%, say Obama and the current Congress are doing a worse job than prior leaders, while nearly as many say they are doing either about the same (34%) or better (13%).

Most of those who think the current leadership is doing a worse job than past leaders -- amounting to 39% of all Americans -- say it is the "worst [they] have seen in [their] lifetime."

Historical Comparison of How Leaders Are Solving the Nation's Problems, July 2011

Bottom Line

Most Americans think the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress are putting their own political interests ahead of the nation's interests in the debt ceiling negotiations, and nearly half say the same of the president. Additionally, half think that Obama and Congress are doing a worse job than previous leaders of solving the nation's problems, including 39% who say it is the worst in their lifetime.

These are harsh criticisms Americans make of their top elected officials, but it is unclear they are new to the current legislative battle over raising the debt ceiling. Polling has long recorded low public trust in government and politicians. And, similar to current skepticism about leaders' motives, more than a decade ago Gallup found three-quarters of Americans saying elected officials were more influenced by campaign contributors than what they believed was in the best interests of the country.

Approval ratings serve as the ultimate barometer of how current events are affecting Americans' views of Congress. At 33% for the Democrats in Congress and 28% for the Republicans, current approval is already very low, but it is not down significantly from the prior reading in March, suggesting the debt ceiling negotiations have not thus far inflicted further damage. Given the stability of Obama's job approval rating in the mid-40s, the same could be said about the debt battle's effect on his ratings.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 15-17, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,016 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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