PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans continue to be highly critical of the job Congress is doing, with 12% approving and 82% disapproving in Gallup's March 8-11 poll. Congress' rating has been 15% or below since August, including 10% last month, the all-time low rating in Gallup records.
The relative stability in Americans' recent ratings of Congress stands in contrast to improvements Gallup has seen in the last two months in Americans' ratings of national conditions and of the job President Obama is doing.
Since January, Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has increased from 18% to 26%. Meanwhile, President Obama's approval ratings, which had consistently been in the mid-40% range in January, have generally been in the upper 40s, including several 49% readings in the last 10 days of Gallup Daily tracking.
The increases in presidential approval and satisfaction ratings are likely influenced by Americans' more positive evaluations of the economy, as measured by Gallup's Economic Confidence Index. Americans' greater economic optimism was perhaps triggered by the government's positive unemployment report from early February, which was followed up with another encouraging report in early March.
Americans may be highly negative toward Congress because of its inability to agree on long-term solutions on key issues such as deficit reduction and an extension of the payroll tax cuts. Congressional agreement is complicated by divided party control of Congress, with Republicans having a majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats a majority in the Senate.
Republicans, Democrats Equally Negative About Congress
Divided control of Congress has affected the way Republicans and Democrats view the institution. Republicans (12%) and Democrats (12%), as well as independents (13%), currently give Congress similarly negative ratings.
That has generally been the case since January 2011, when Republicans took control of the House. From 2007-2010, however, when Democrats held a majority in both houses, Democrats generally rated Congress much more positively than Republicans.
Party differences were also evident when Republicans were in control of both houses of Congress: from 1995 through 2006, Republicans generally viewed Congress more positively than Democrats.
In fact, a party gap in ratings of Congress was apparent in nearly all years from 1993-2010 -- when one party had control of both houses, except for a small period from 2001-2003. The lone exception was 2008, when Americans were highly dissatisfied with the state of the nation, given the recession and financial crisis. The average party gap in ratings of Congress over this time was 18 percentage points. In 2011 and 2012 to date, the party gaps were two points and one point, respectively.
Thus, one reason Congress' ratings may be low is that Congress does not have a natural base of political supporters, due to the current division of party control between the two houses. If one party controlled both houses, that party's supporters would probably look more favorably on the institution, and thus its approval ratings overall might be higher than they are now.
Congress has few supporters among the American public roughly seven months before voters decide on representatives in all 435 House seats and roughly one-third of Senate seats. Typically, when congressional approval ratings are low, there is more turnover in membership in that election. Though divided control of Congress makes it harder for voters to assign blame on a partisan basis for the institution's performance, incumbents will nonetheless have a harder time convincing voters to send them back to Washington for another term.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 8-11, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 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 2011 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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.