Congressional Leaders Get Low Marks as Fiscal Fight Looms

Congressional Leaders Get Low Marks as Fiscal Fight Looms

by Andrew Dugan

Republicans more likely to disapprove than approve of their party's leaders

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Congress heads into a major fiscal showdown that could result in a government shutdown and the U.S. defaulting on its debt, few Americans approve of the job that top congressional leaders are doing. Americans give relatively low job approval ratings to Republican House Speaker John Boehner (37%), Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (33%), Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (39%), and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (35%).

Net Approval Rating of Nation's Top Four Congressional Leaders, September 2013

These findings come from a Gallup poll conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013. This is the first time Gallup has asked Americans whether they approve or disapprove of this particular group of congressional leaders. Previous polls have found that all four legislators suffer low favorability ratings.

Reid and Boehner are the leaders of the majority caucus in their respective chambers, and they have the lowest net approval scores among the four congressional leaders: Reid's is -20 and Boehner's, -17. McConnell and Pelosi lead each chamber's minority caucus, which typically holds less sway over legislation, and both have slightly higher net approval ratings of -12. This differs from a previous Gallup poll of congressional leaders' favorability, which found Pelosi -- who has led her caucus longer than any other member of the current leadership pool -- with the lowest net popularity of the four.

Although all four leaders have relatively low approval ratings, each does have a higher approval rating than Congress' 19%.

Americans historically have given congressional leaders relatively low approval and favorability ratings. Newt Gingrich's tenure as speaker was marked by approval ratings as low as 27% and as high as 48%. Americans also frowned on how then-House Speaker Pelosi handled the matter of interrogation techniques used against terrorism suspects, with 47% disapproving of her role -- higher than any other actor in that drama. Gallup usually inquires about the favorability of congressional leaders as opposed to their job approval, and previous generations of congressional leadership, much like the current one, had low favorability ratings.

Republicans More Likely to Disapprove of Party's Congressional Leaders

Republicans view Boehner and McConnell in an ambivalent to negative light. Nearly as many Republicans disapprove (44%) as approve (48%) of Boehner. In the Senate, McConnell is "underwater" with Republicans -- 33% approve, while 47% disapprove.

In fact, a higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans approve of McConnell, although both groups are more likely to disapprove than approve. For the senator facing a high-profile primary race in his home state of Kentucky, these figures could be a sign of trouble.

Approval of the Nation's Top Congressional Leadership, by Party ID, September 2013

Pelosi has strong support among Democrats, with 65% approving of her performance and 24% disapproving. Reid garners mixed reviews among his own partisans, with 47% of Democrats approving and 40% disapproving.


At a critical moment that will test the leadership skills of the country's top four legislators, Americans resoundingly disapprove of their job performance. The two most powerful members of the foursome, Boehner and Reid, have the lowest net approval ratings, meaning Americans have low confidence in the nation's key decision makers at a time when the nation's credit and governmental services are on the line.

Divisions within the Republican caucus about whether to fund the Affordable Care Act are one major obstacle that congressional leaders must overcome in the coming weeks to avoid a government shutdown or the U.S. defaulting on its debt. These divisions are perhaps reflected in Republicans' relatively low approval ratings of Boehner and McConnell, the party's congressional leaders.

Finally, all four legislators do boast a higher approval rating than the U.S. Congress, the institution they lead. At this pivotal juncture and with so much at stake, it would probably behoove every member of Congress, leadership included, to find a way to avoid shuttering government offices or going into national default. Perhaps Americans would repay such actions with higher approval ratings.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013, with a random sample of at between 703 and 794 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. 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

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