PRINCETON, NJ -- Thirty-four percent of Americans approve of the job the Democrats in Congress are doing and 26% approve of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing. Both approval ratings are on the lower end of what Gallup has measured for each party, beginning in 1999.
The latest ratings are from a June 20-24 Gallup poll. Democrats' approval rating is up six percentage points from the prior measurement of 28% in September 2011, which was the historical low rating for that party. Republicans' approval is unchanged from the last measurement and is just one point above the historical low of 25% from December 2008.
Both parties' ratings are also significantly lower than their historical averages: congressional Democrats' current approval rating of 34% is eight points below the historical average of 42%, and congressional Republicans' 26% approval rating is 11 points below their historical norm.
The low ratings for both parties in Congress are not surprising, given that Congress' overall job approval rating and confidence in Congress as an institution are also near or at all-time lows.
Parties in Congress Rated Better than Congress Overall
Americans' approval ratings of both parties in Congress currently exceed their approval of Congress overall, measured at 17% earlier this month. Americans have mostly been less approving of Congress as an institution than of the parties within Congress since about 2003, and that disparity has widened since early 2010. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, ratings of Congress and the two parties in Congress were generally similar.
That disparity is explained by partisans' typically higher ratings of their preferred party's congressional membership than of Congress overall. Specifically, 63% of Democrats now approve of the job the Democrats in Congress are doing, and 48% of Republicans approve of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing. Meanwhile, Democrats' and Republicans' ratings of Congress overall are both below 20%.
Divided control of Congress may help explain why Americans rate the institution lower than either party caucus within the institution. Because Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats the Senate, Americans do not have a clear party cue to help inform their judgments as they do for ratings of the parties in Congress, the president, or Congress when one party controls both houses. However, that cannot be the complete explanation, because Americans rated Congress as a whole lower than either party in Congress during times of unified party control from 2003-2010. And the widening gap in ratings of the parties and the overall institution emerged in 2010, prior to that year's elections, which resulted in divided party control of the House and Senate.
Another possibility for the disparity in ratings of Congress more generally and the parties in Congress is that Americans may be focusing more on their nonpreferred party when evaluating Congress overall. The ratings by party provide support for this -- Democrats' ratings of Congress overall (19%) are much closer to their ratings of the Republicans in Congress (10%) than to their ratings of the Democrats in Congress (63%). And Republicans' ratings of Congress (17%) are closer to their ratings of the Democrats in Congress (11%) than to their ratings of the Republicans in Congress (48%). Independents' ratings of both parties are higher than their ratings of Congress in general, but not dramatically so.
Thus, Americans' frustrations with Congress may be directed more at the other party than at their own party. But there is a certain level of frustration with their own party's congressional caucus as well. Fewer than half of Republicans approve of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing, and the ratings are similar among conservative and moderate or liberal Republicans. Democrats rate their party in Congress better than Republicans rate theirs, with 63% approving, but that is also significantly lower than Democrats' 81% approval rating of President Obama.
Americans' opinions of Congress, measured in a variety of ways, are the worst or among the worst Gallup has measured. And although Americans are down on both parties in Congress, they do rate the parties more highly than the institution as a whole. That may result from a knee-jerk partisan response when evaluating one's preferred party versus the broader institution, but it may also reveal that Americans are inclined to evaluate Congress more in terms of what the other party, rather than their preferred one, is doing.
Divided party control of Congress is likely conspiring to keep approval ratings of the institution down, from the standpoint that Americans do not have clear party cues they can use in order to form opinions about it, but also from the gridlock and bickering that results when the two houses have difficulty in agreeing on legislation.
Next year, Americans will once again elect a new Congress, and it is too early to tell if one party will be able to gain control of both houses. In the meantime, unless Congress can agree on solutions to the major problems facing the country, its ratings likely will continue to languish.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 20-24, 2013, with a random sample of 2,048 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 ±3 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 and cell telephone 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, and cellphone mostly). 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.
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