PRINCETON, NJ -- Thirteen percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, essentially unchanged from December but above the all-time low of 9% from November. Congressional approval has rarely been 20% or higher in the last three years.
The latest results are based on a Jan. 5-8 Gallup poll. After showing slight improvement in December following November's record-low rating, congressional approval has leveled off in January. The current 13% reading is also close to what Gallup measured in January 2013 (14%) and January 2012 (13%).
Job approval of Congress remains well below the historical average of 33%. Gallup has not measured a job approval rating above that mark since early in Barack Obama's presidency. Gallup first measured congressional job approval in 1974.
Divided party control of Congress is likely one major factor in Congress' depressed ratings in recent years. A Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a Democratic majority in the Senate have led to partisan gridlock, with the two houses of Congress usually at odds on how to deal with the major issues facing the country.
But divided party control of Congress has also made the institution a political orphan, with neither Republicans nor Democrats embracing it as their own. Currently, 17% of Republicans, 11% of independents, and 14% of Democrats approve of Congress.
When one party controls both chambers, supporters of that party are usually much more likely to approve of Congress. For example, an average of 40% of Democrats approved of Congress from 2009 to 2010, when Democrats held control of both houses. An even higher 47% of Republicans approved of Congress from 2005 to 2006, the last time the GOP was in full control.
Boehner Rated Negatively for Handling Job of Speaker
In addition to rating Congress overall, the poll also asked Americans to assess the job John Boehner is doing as speaker of the House. Boehner is the highest-ranking Republican in the federal government and has been the party's point person in dealings with Obama and Senate Democrats.
Nearly twice as many Americans disapprove (53%) as approve (28%) of the job Boehner is doing; 19% have no opinion.
Boehner gets a more positive review than Congress as an institution partly because of his clear Republican affiliation. Forty-nine percent of Republicans approve of the job he is doing, while 34% disapprove. By comparison, his approval rating among Democrats is 17%, with 68% disapproving.
Boehner's association with an unpopular Congress may also be dragging his overall approval rating down. Obama, whose job approval ratings are well below the historical norm for presidents, has still managed to average 41% approval so far this month.
Also, Boehner may be less popular because although Republicans are more likely to approve than disapprove of him, they hardly give him a glowing endorsement. His role in working with Obama and Senate Democrats to end the government shutdown in October, and to put in place the framework for a two-year budget agreement to avoid future shutdowns, have helped end major political squabbles. But those actions may not have endeared him to strong conservative Republicans who want leaders to stick to their principles rather than compromise to reach agreement.
Americans continue to hold Congress in low esteem, with the largely bipartisan efforts to end the government shutdown and develop a two-year budget framework apparently buying the legislative body little goodwill. With 2014 an election year, all seats in the House of Representatives and roughly one-third of Senate seats are at stake. The unpopularity of Congress has been a factor in major swings in the number of seats held by each party in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, and could be again this year.
Congress has several months to improve its image before the campaigns get underway in earnest this fall. However, it is often difficult for Congress to agree on legislation with elections looming and candidates trying to position themselves best politically, particularly because the elections could decide party control of the Senate if not also the House.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 5-8, 2014, with a random sample of 1,018 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 2013 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the January-June 2013 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 www.gallup.com.