PRINCETON, NJ -- A record-low 10% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 13% in January and the previous low of 11%, recorded in December 2011. Eighty-six percent disapprove of Congress, tying the record high for disapproval set in December.
The new-low 10% approval rating is based on a Gallup survey conducted Feb. 2-5, about two weeks after President Obama's 2012 State of the Union address and the reconvening of the U.S. House and Senate.
Congressional approval averaged 17% for all of 2011. The highest reading last year was 24% in May. More broadly, Gallup's highest approval rating for Congress is 84% in October 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
It is difficult to pinpoint any specific recent actions that may have led to the continuing deterioration in Congress' image, particularly because much of the political attention in January and early February has focused on the Republican presidential race. Congress at this point is again wrangling over the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits -- both of which were temporarily extended late last year in a short-term fix that expires at the end of February. It is notable that President Obama has continued to make criticism of Congress a part of his broad presidential re-election strategy.
Congress' current low ratings continue a generally negative trend. The 17% annual average for 2011 is by one percentage point the lowest yearly average Gallup has recorded. More broadly, the average congressional job approval rating since 1974 is 34%, signifying the generally poor esteem in which the American people have held Congress over the past decades.
Both Democrats and Republicans Give Congress Equally Low Ratings
Democrats' and Republicans' approval of Congress are equally low, at 11% and 12%, respectively, while 8% of independents approve. Republicans control the House of Representatives and Democrats control the Senate, and this divided government no doubt helps explain these uniformly low ratings. Through much of 2009 and 2010, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Democrats were more positive about Congress than either independents or Republicans were.
This month's record-low congressional job approval rating is but the latest example of Americans' widely negative views of Congress, government, and the political process. The February drop in congressional job approval is particularly noteworthy, given that Americans in the same survey expressed modestly increased satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States. Additionally, economic confidence has grown rather than declined over the past month, and President Obama's job approval rating is trending slightly upward, reaching 50% in this same survey and 47% in the Gallup Daily tracking average ending Feb. 7. This means Congress' image is a major exception to the gradual improvement on a number of measures Gallup is tracking.
The next major hurdle for Congress is the Feb. 29 deadline for the extension of the payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. If Congress is unable to reach an agreement on these issues altogether -- leading to a tax increase for many Americans and an end to benefits for some of the long-term unemployed -- or passes yet another temporary extension, Americans' confidence in their representatives could fall even lower.
Americans will have the opportunity to vote on all 435 House members in November, as well as about a third of all senators. Voters turned control of the House over to the Republicans in the November 2010 midterm elections at a time when congressional job approval was 21% and Democrats held control of both the House and the Senate. Now, with Republicans controlling one body and Democrats the other, it is unclear how voters might attempt to change things in Congress if congressional job approval remains as low in November as it is now.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 2-5, 2012, with a random sample of 1,029 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, 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone 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 by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 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 www.gallup.com.