PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' approval of Congress is at 15% in February, one percentage point higher than in January and exactly matching the 15% average for all of 2012. More than eight in 10 Americans (81%) disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
Congress' current 15% approval rating is up slightly from the all-time low of 10% recorded in February and August 2012. Just before the presidential election last year, approval increased to 21% in October, but then fell to 18% in November and December and has been lower still, at 14% and 15%, over the first two months of this year.
Congressional job approval continues to be at the low end of the historical spectrum. The February reading of 15% matches last year's average, which was the lowest yearly average in Gallup's history extending back to 1974. More broadly, Americans' approval of Congress has been low for several years now, averaging 17% in 2011 and 19% in 2010.
Approval spiked to 30% in 2009, reflecting a rally that accompanied President Barack Obama's first year in office, but was at 19% in 2008. Prior to that, yearly congressional job approval averages were more positive, averaging 25% or higher for each year extending back to 1994. The record-high yearly averages for congressional job approval were 56% in 2001 and 54% in 2002, reflecting a rally effect that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Democrats Remain Slightly More Positive
Republicans' approval ratings of Congress edged up to 12% from 6% in January, while Democrats' ratings also were up slightly, from 15% to 19%. Independents' ratings, on the other hand, were slightly down, from 17% to 14%. Republicans have generally been at least slightly less approving of Congress than the other two groups since last summer, but the partisan groups have generally rated Congress similarly since it came under divided control in 2011. Prior to 2011, when Democrats held control of both houses, Democrats across the country were significantly more positive about Congress than either independents or Republicans.
The overall average for congressional job approval since Gallup began measuring it almost 40 years ago is 33%, meaning that Congress' image is in significantly worse shape now than it has been throughout most of the last four decades.
Further, Americans' approval of Congress continues to be much lower than their approval of President Obama. This may in part reflect the difference between rating an institution versus rating a particular person; no doubt many Americans would rate their individual representative in Congress higher than they would rate Congress overall. Still, the disparity may give Obama the upper hand when it comes to generating public support on various policy issues and laws where congressional leaders and the president disagree.
Congress currently faces many difficult issues, including the looming sequestration of federal spending funds, the need for a new federal budget and spending bill, pressures to pass new gun control and immigration legislation, and continuing efforts to reconcile vastly different perspectives on government spending more broadly. How Congress handles these issues will help determine if it can climb out of its very negative positioning in Americans' eyes anytime soon.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 7-10, 2013, with a random sample of 1,015 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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 http://www.gallup.com/.