Job Approval Ratings Low for Both Parties in Congress

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Only about one in three approve of job Republicans, Democrats in Congress are doing

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' frustration with Congress is directed at both sides of the aisle -- with job approval ratings of 33% for the Democrats in Congress and 32% for the Republicans in Congress.

1999-2010 Trend: Do You Approve or Disapprove of the Way the Republicans in Congress/the Democrats in Congress Are Handling Their Job?

Both parties' ratings are on the low end of what Gallup has measured since the question was first asked in 1999. The Democratic Party's current job approval rating is just three points above its low of 30% measured in December 2007. The historical low rating for congressional Republicans is 25% in December 2008.

Since early 2009, approval of the Democrats has generally trended downward, while the Republican approval rating has been mostly flat. This has resulted in a fairly notable situation in which the two parties in Congress currently receive similar ratings.

Over time, Americans have tended to give the Democrats in Congress at least slightly more positive ratings than the Republicans in Congress. This has been the case when the Democrats were in the majority as well as when they were in the minority; thus, being the majority party is not an obvious liability when it comes to these ratings.

The Democrats' typically higher ratings likely reflect that a larger number of Americans have historically identified as Democrats than as Republicans. People who identify with a party tend to rate that party's congressional delegation more positively, which is the case in the current poll.

Job Approval of the Republicans in Congress/the Democrats in Congress, by Political Party Affiliation, August 2010

The two parties' similar job approval ratings are also notable because Republicans have recently been leading when voters are asked which party's candidate they favor in this fall's congressional elections (although Gallup's latest generic ballot suggests this could be changing). In the same Aug. 27-30 USA Today/Gallup poll that included the congressional job approval questions, 49% of registered voters said they would vote for the Republican candidate for Congress in their local district, compared with 43% for the Democratic candidate.

The parity in congressional Democrats' and Republicans' ratings underscores the conclusion that any Republican advantage in 2010 midterm voting is not primarily due to positive sentiments toward the GOP.

Bottom Line

With both Republicans and Democrats in Congress suffering low approval ratings -- in addition to the poor ratings for Congress as a whole, it is understandable why voters appear to be in a mood to oust incumbents this year.

The relatively similar ratings of the congressional parties also suggest Americans may not be ready to embrace the Republicans' way of doing things even if they vote them in as the majority party in Congress this fall. What is not clear, however, is why the ratings are so low. This could be due merely to frustration toward Congress in general this year. Alternatively, the ratings could be tied to more specific negative evaluations of the legislation the Democrats in Congress have passed, or the Republicans' efforts to stop those bills from passing.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 27-30, 2010, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. 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, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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