Republicans Remain Reticent to Approve of New Congress

by Lymari Morales

Independents' approval is up, essentially matching approval of other two party groups

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Republicans give Congress lackluster approval ratings -- as do the rest of Americans -- despite their party's increased share of power. At 23%, Republicans' approval is essentially the same as independents' (23%) and Democrats' (25%) approval -- making the three groups more closely aligned in their views of Congress than at any time in the past several years, and resulting in a 23% approval rating overall.

January 2009-February 2011 Trend: Congressional Job Approval, by Political Party Affiliation

While all party groups give Congress similar approval ratings, independents now give Congress their highest ratings since the summer of 2009. Approval among Democrats and Republicans is essentially unchanged from last month.

Republicans may be reticent to approve of the new Congress partly because Democrats still control the Senate. Republicans' current approval of Congress is well below the level seen in previous Februarys for a party newly in control of the House of Representatives. Compared with today's 23% approval rating among Republicans, 58% of Republicans approved of Congress in February 1995 -- a month after their party gained control of the House and Senate for the first time in decades -- and 44% of Democrats approved in February 2007, shortly after the Democrats recaptured control of both houses.

Congressional Job Approval Rating by Party in February After Recent Transfers of Power (% Approve)

Americans' approval of Congress remains low overall at 23%, but is up 10 percentage points from December, as the 111th Congress worked to complete its session. The 112th Congress has yet to pass any major legislation, with efforts to repeal the healthcare reform law, pass a budget-cutting initiative to retrieve money paid to the United Nations, and extend provisions of the Patriot Act all failing to advance.

January 2009-February 2011 Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?


Americans appear to be in a wait-and-see mode in terms of rating the new divided Congress. Republicans' approval has not increased to the extent one would expect for a party now enjoying more power and influence. Democrats are less approving than they were for the bulk of the time their party controlled both houses, though slightly more approving than they were during the lame-duck session in December. Independents are currently alone in their slightly improved views of Congress since January, perhaps hoping divided control will result in more moderate or bipartisan legislation.

Other than this month and last month, the previous two times the three party groups rated Congress similarly -- within 11 points -- were times of legislative flurry: prior to the passage of comprehensive healthcare reform in March 2010 and during the lame-duck session in December.

Taking into account Americans' concerns about the federal budget deficit and the economy and jobs, Congress' best bet to gain the approval of the American public likely lies in its ability to successfully cut federal spending and spur economic growth.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2011, with a random sample of 1,015 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 2010 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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