Politics

111th Congress Averaged 25% Approval, Among Recent Lowest

by Lydia Saad

Pelosi has presided over least popular Congresses of past two decades

PRINCETON, NJ -- The 111th Congress received an average 25% approval rating from Americans over the course of 2009 and 2010. While this is similar to the 23% average approval rating for the 110th Congress spanning 2007 and 2008, it is among the lowest average approval ratings for a Congress that Gallup has recorded in the past two decades.

Job Approval for Recent Congresses -- Two-Year Averages

Gallup first measured Americans' approval of the job Congress is doing in 1974, but did not consistently update it at least annually until the 1991-1992 term of the 102nd Congress. Approval of subsequent Congresses has varied mostly from the low 20s to the mid-40s, although it reached 55% for the 107th Congress' 2001-2002 term.

Over the last two decades, the country has experienced good economic times and bad, and those differences are clearly reflected in the approval ratings of Congress, just as they are in presidents' job approval ratings. However, the speakers for each Congress could be a factor. Both the 110th and 111th Congress were controlled by the Democrats and led by Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. The Gallup record shows that approval of Congress during her tenure, from 2007 through 2010, averaged a fairly meager 24%, including a record-low 13% approval rating in December 2010. By contrast, for the eight years that Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert presided over the U.S. House of Representatives, from early 1999 through the end of 2006, Congress' approval averaged 44%. From 1995 through 1998, when Republican Newt Gingrich served as speaker, Congress' approval averaged 38%, and for the last four years of Democrat Tom Foley's speakership, from 1991 through 1994, it averaged 26%.

9/11, Economy, and Scandals Influence Congress' Ratings

The high approval of the 107th Congress, which met from 2001-2002, was partly the result of Americans' high approval of Congress in September 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Approval of Congress doubled immediately after the attacks, from 42% in early September to 84% in early October, and it remained above 50% for the remainder of 2001 and in much of 2002.

Public approval of Congress over the years was also likely influenced by various political scandals, most notably the House banking scandal in 1992 and bribery scandals in 2005/2006 related to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, both of which corresponded with low points in congressional approval.

The economy also seems to be a major factor in Americans' views of Congress, with that body earning higher approval ratings in years of relatively strong economic growth, and lower approval ratings when gross domestic product grew by less than 2% per year. The major exception to this came during the 107th Congress, when 9/11 contributed to higher job approval ratings for Congress at the same time the economy was contracting. Also, the 25% average approval for the 103rd Congress may have been lower than would be predicted from the average 3.5% increase in gross domestic product from 1993 to 1994, perhaps because of the same issues that led to the Republican congressional victories in the 1994 midterm elections.

Average Approval Rating for Each Congress vs. Average Change in U.S. GDP, 102nd to 111th Congresses

Bottom Line

Pundits on the political right and left are offering widely divergent assessments of the 111th Congress as it closes its second term and makes way for an incoming Republican majority to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Its champions call it one of the most productive Congresses in recent history, heralding its accomplishments relative to healthcare reform, Wall Street regulatory reform, economic stimulus, and nuclear arms reduction. Its critics point to major increases in government spending and debt, increased regulation of the economy, and expansion of government involvement in healthcare. While history will issue a more reflective judgment on how well this Congress performed its constitutional duties, Americans' real-time ratings over the course of the 111th Congress are among the least positive for the last 10 Congresses.

Survey Methods

The average Congress approval rating for the 111th Congress is based on 25 separate Gallup Poll surveys conducted between January 2009 and December 2010. Each survey is based on telephone interviews with a random sample of approximately 1,000 adults aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For the aggregated sample of more than 25,000 national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, 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 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.

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

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