U.S. Congress' Approval Rating at 21% Ahead of Elections

U.S. Congress' Approval Rating at 21% Ahead of Elections

by Jeffrey M. Jones

One of lowest heading into an election

PRINCETON, NJ -- Twenty-one percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, higher than the 13% Gallup measured in September, and the highest rating in any month since May 2011.


The more positive evaluation of Congress could be a delayed reaction to the same factors that brought about improvement in Americans' -- and in particular Democrats' -- views of national conditions in September. Satisfaction with the United States and economic confidence increased significantly in September, mainly because of Democrats' more positive ratings, before leveling off in October. The increases in satisfaction and economic confidence were apparent in the days after the Democratic National Convention at which the party nominated President Barack Obama as its presidential candidate as he seeks a second term in office.

In contrast, congressional approval rose modestly in September -- to 13% from 10% in August -- before this month's more substantial increase.

Supporting the thesis that changes in Democrats' views are driving the improvements in many national indicators, Democrats have shown the greatest increase in their evaluations of Congress this past month, to 30% from 16% approval. Independents' and Republicans' ratings are up more modestly, by eight percentage points (to 20% from 12%) and four points (to 14% from 10%), respectively.

Congress Approval Low for Pre-Election Period

Even with this month's increase, Congress' approval rating is still low from a historical perspective. The average rating in Gallup polls since 1974 is 34%. Congress' current 21% approval rating also ranks among the lowest final pre-election measurements by Gallup in an election year, tied with the 21% reading in 2010 and slightly higher than the 18% in 1992 and 2008.


Historically, lower congressional approval ratings -- typically those below 30% -- have been associated with more turnover of seats by party in Congress, as voters take out their frustrations with the institution by changing its membership. The losses typically occur for the president's party. This relationship holds in both presidential and midterm election years, but is stronger in midterm years. The largest changes in party seats in a presidential election year occurred in 1980 (34 seats when Congress' approval was 25%) and 2008 (23 seats with approval at 18%). There have been larger seat changes in midterm election years, including 1974, 1994, and 2010.


Americans' evaluations of Congress are still overwhelmingly negative, but not as negative as before. In September, it looked likely that Congress would head into this year's elections with a lower approval rating than at any time since 1974, though things brightened slightly in October.

Nevertheless, Congress' low approval rating makes its members vulnerable to defeat and raises the possibility that the institution's membership could be quite different when the new Congress convenes in January. However, with party control of Congress currently divided, given a majority Republican House of Representatives and majority Democratic Senate -- along with a Democratic president -- it is not clear whether those frustrated with Congress would take disproportionately greater aim at one party's members or another.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 15-16, 2012, on the Gallup Daily election tracking survey with a random sample of 1,004 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 250 cell phone respondents and 250 landline respondents per 500 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, population density, 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 U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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 http://www.gallup.com/.

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