Congress' Approval Rating Jumps to 31%

by Jeffrey M. Jones

More positive ratings from Democrats largely responsible for increase

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's latest congressional job approval rating, from a Feb. 9-12 poll, shows a sharp 12 percentage-point increase from last month, rising from 19% to 31%. While still quite negative on an absolute basis, this is the best rating for Congress in nearly two years.

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Congress' approval ratings have been below 30% pretty consistently since October 2005. There have been a few exceptions to this, with ratings as high as 37% in early 2007 after the Democrats took party control of Congress after their victories in the November 2006 midterm elections, but those quickly disappeared. More recently, approval ratings of Congress had been about 20% or lower, including an all-time low rating of 14% in July 2008.

This month's sharp increase largely reflects a more positive Democratic review of Congress. Since the previous measure from early January, Barack Obama has been inaugurated as president, and now Democrats have party control of both the legislative and the executive branches of the federal government.

Democrats' average approval ratings of Congress more than doubled from January (18%) to February (43%). Independents show a smaller increase, from 17% to 29%, while Republicans are now less likely to approve of Congress than they were in January.

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The more positive ratings for Congress among Democrats may also reflect an implicit endorsement of the work Congress has been doing to pass the economic stimulus plan, which had considerable support among rank-and-file Democrats, according to recent Gallup Polls.

Surge in Congress Job Approval in Historical Perspective

Gallup has been measuring public approval of Congress on a monthly basis since January 2001. During that time, there have been only two month-to-month increases larger than the 12-point jump observed this month.

The largest single-month increase was a 42-point rally in congressional support after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, from 42% in a Sept. 7-10, 2001, poll to 84% in mid-October 2001. Gallup found similar increases in ratings of other government institutions around that time.

The next-largest jump of 14 points occurred after Democrats took party control of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate in early 2007. There was also a 10-point increase from March to April 2003, which spanned the time of the beginning of the U.S. war with Iraq.

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In general, Congress' approval ratings tend to be low. In fact, the current 31% score is very near the historical average of 35% in Gallup Polls since 1974. That compares with an average 55% approval rating for presidents historically.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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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