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Congress Ends 2011 With Record-Low 11% Approval

Congress Ends 2011 With Record-Low 11% Approval

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new record-low 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest single rating in Gallup's history of asking this question since 1974. This earns Congress a 17% yearly average for 2011, the lowest annual congressional approval rating in Gallup history.

Congressional Job Approval -- 2011 Trend

The record-low 11% rating is based on a Gallup survey conducted Dec. 15-18, and comes at a time when Congress is wrangling once again at the last minute over extensions of a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits, and higher pay for Medicare doctors.

This discord in Washington caps off a year in which Congress fought bitterly before reaching a last-minute agreement to lift the debt ceiling, instructing a bipartisan supercommittee to cut more than $1 trillion from federal spending by the end of November. That objective was not reached, and the supercommittee ultimately announced that it could not reach an agreement, and disbanded.

The previous low Gallup reading for congressional job approval was 13%, recorded in August, October, and November of this year, and in December 2010. The highest approval rating for Congress is 84% in October 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

The current 86% disapproval rating for Congress is the highest in Gallup history, two percentage points higher than the 84% recorded in August.

Never Popular, Congress' Annual Approval This Year at New Low

From a broad, long-term perspective, Congress has never been popular. The average annual congressional job approval rating since 1974 is 34%. Still, this year's 17% annual average is by one point the lowest yearly average Gallup has recorded. It is slightly below the annual averages of 19% recorded in 2010 and in 2008, as well as two years in which Gallup recorded only one measure of congressional approval -- 1979 and in 1992, with readings of 19% and 18%, respectively.

Congressional Job Approval, Annual Averages, 1974-2011

The average 78% disapproval of Congress this year ties the all-time low recorded in the single 1992 Gallup poll.

Republicans, Independents, and Democrats All Give Congress Low Ratings

Over the last three months, Democrats have been almost as negative as Republicans and independents about Congress, with Democrats in December at 14% approval, independents at 7%, and Republicans at 12%. The partisan groups began to hold Congress in similarly negative esteem in in August, when Democratic approval of Congress dropped. Through much of 2009 and 2010, and in several months this year, Democrats had been more positive about Congress than either independents or Republicans.

Congressional Job Approval by Party ID -- 2011 Trend

Bottom Line

This month's record-low congressional job approval rating is one of a number of measures of Congress that have reached historical low points this year. This suggests that 2011 will be remembered as the year in which the American public lost much of any remaining faith in the men and women they elect and send off to Washington to represent them.

It is difficult to pinpoint the precise causes for this situation. Clearly, the perceived bad economy, the increasing polarization between political parties, and highly visible instances of congressional inability to reach agreement on how to fix problems have all contributed.

Last year, faced with congressional approval ratings that were also low, albeit not as low as this year's, American voters returned control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, with the highest turnover in Democratically held seats in the last 70-plus years. In the November 2012 elections, voters will face a divided government, with a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and the Republican House. This makes it unclear how Americans' historically low evaluations of the men and women they elect to represent them will be manifested at the voting booth next fall.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,019 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 by 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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