U.S. Congress and Its Leaders Suffer Public Discontent

U.S. Congress and Its Leaders Suffer Public Discontent

by Andrew Dugan

Story Highlights

  • Congress approval falls to 14% from 17%
  • Speaker John Boehner records his lowest favorable rating
  • Republican congressional leaders not popular with GOP base

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Now on August recess, members of Congress returning to their districts may receive a skeptical reception from constituents, as 14% of U.S. adults approve of the job Congress is doing, down slightly from 17% in July.

Congressional Job Approval Ratings: 2001-2015

These results come from a Gallup poll conducted Aug. 5-9. Congressional leaders can point to a slightly more productive session than was true for the previous two Congresses, such as passing "fast-track authority" -- which grants the president enhanced authority to negotiate free-trade agreements -- as well as the USA Freedom Act, which significantly revised some provisions of the Patriot Act.

These activities notwithstanding, Congress hasn't gained in popularity among Americans. Moreover, the leaders of the two Republican-controlled chambers, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are suffering a similar public image problem.

A majority of Americans (54%) have an unfavorable opinion of Boehner, who is in his third term as speaker. Meanwhile, 23% view Boehner favorably, down slightly from 27% in March of this year and his lowest favorable rating as House speaker. Americans have been more likely to view Boehner negatively than positively since 2013.

Trend: Americans' Overall Opinions of Speaker of the House John Boehner

McConnell is a less well-known figure than Boehner, with nearly four in 10 Americans (37%) saying they have not heard of the senator or registering no opinion of him. McConnell saw his influence on Capitol Hill expand in immeasurable ways after the 2014 midterm elections gave his caucus 54 seats, making him the Senate majority leader. But this promotion has done little to elevate his brand with the American public -- nearly twice as many see him unfavorably (41%) as favorably (22%), comparable to ratings of the past several years.

Trend: Americans' Overall Opinions of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

Congressional leaders are rarely popular with the public. Boehner's favorable rating today is close to where then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's stood in October 2010. Back then, 29% viewed her favorably and 56% unfavorably, prior to the widespread Democratic losses in that year's elections. Like Boehner at the beginning of his speakership, Pelosi enjoyed a brief bout of popularity but saw her ratings fall over time.

McConnell's first public rating as majority leader is remarkably similar to that of his chief legislative adversary, Harry Reid, in October 2014, just prior to Reid's losing his job as majority leader. In that poll, 21% had a favorable opinion of Reid, while 45% saw him unfavorably and 34% had no opinion. Both Reid and McConnell have been largely more disliked than liked over their careers as leaders of their respective parties, though a sizable segment of the population does not know them.

Boehner, McConnell Struggle With Republican Support

Although Boehner and McConnell lead the two chambers that often stand in opposition to President Barack Obama, the GOP faithful are hardly enthralled with them. Slightly more Republicans see Boehner unfavorably (42%) than favorably (37%), while 20% have no opinion or don't know him. Independents and Democrats tilt more strongly in the same direction, with majorities holding an unfavorable opinion of the House speaker.

Favorability of Congressional Leaders, by Party Identification, August 2015

McConnell breaks even among Republicans, with 34% seeing him favorably and 32% unfavorably. But still another third of Republicans don't know McConnell or haven't heard of him (34%). Anonymity is hardly McConnell's problem among Democrats, as half of self-identified Democrats say they have an unfavorable opinion of McConnell, while 16% see him favorably. McConnell's image with independents also skews negative.

Bottom Line

Even with the August break at hand, Congress is hardly in a position to be satisfied with its accomplishments this year. The legislative branch remains about as unpopular as it was for much of the late Bush presidency and has been throughout Obama's tenure, despite several changes in party control and, correspondingly, in leadership.

Indeed, the main congressional leaders -- House Speaker Boehner and Senator Majority Leader McConnell -- are not only unpopular figures with the public at large, they are also not particularly well-received even among Republicans. For both men, at least on a national scale, the mantle of power has not come with popularity.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 5-9, 2015, with a random sample of 1,011 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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