Congress Approval Rating Matches Historical Low

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Just 18% approve of job Congress is doing

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds Congress' approval rating the lowest it has been since Gallup first tracked public opinion of Congress with this measure in 1974. Just 18% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76% disapprove, according to the August 13-16, 2007, Gallup Poll.

That 18% job approval rating matches the low recorded in March 1992, when a check-bouncing scandal was one of several scandals besetting Congress, leading many states to pass term limits measures for U.S. representatives (which the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional). Congress had a similarly low 19% approval rating during the energy crisis in the summer of 1979.

Americans' evaluations of the job Congress is doing are usually not that positive -- the vast majority of historical approval ratings have been below 50%. The high point was 84% approval one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Americans rallied behind the federal government. Since then, Congress' approval ratings have generally exhibited the same downward trajectory seen in those for President George W. Bush. Currently, 32% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a far cry from the record-high 90% he received in September 2001. Bush's current job approval rating is just three percentage points above his lowest.

There was a slight interruption in the downward trend in congressional approval ratings at the beginning of this year when party control changed hands from the Republicans to the Democrats following last fall's midterm elections. In January 2007, 35% of Americans approved of Congress, a significant increase from the 21% who approved of Congress in December 2006. That December rating tied the lowest in the 12 years the Republicans controlled Congress from 1995 to 2006.

But that "honeymoon" period for the new Democratically controlled Congress was brief, as its job ratings dropped below 30% in March 2007 and have now fallen below where they were just before the Democrats took over.  

Frustration with Congress spans the political spectrum. There are only minor (but not statistically meaningful) differences in the approval ratings Democrats (21%), Republicans (18%), and independents (17%) give to Congress. Typically, partisans view Congress much more positively when their party is in control of the institution, so the fact that Democrats' ratings are not materially better than Republicans' is notable.

The nine-point drop in Congress' job approval rating from last month to this month has come exclusively from Democrats and independents, with Democrats' ratings dropping 11 points (from 32% to 21%) and independents' ratings dropping 13 points (from 30% to 17%). Republicans' 18% approval rating is unchanged from last month.  

The decline in congressional job approval could merely reflect the cessation of any public good will it engendered when the new leadership arrived in January, since the current 18% rating is similar to what it was in December 2006 (21%).

But, it could also reflect disappointment with the new Congress' performance (especially among Democrats) and economic unease.

Americans elected the Democrats as the majority party in Congress in November 2006's midterm election in large part due to frustration with the Iraq war and an ineffective and scandal-plagued Republican-led Congress. But any hopes that the elections would lead to change have not been realized as Democrats' repeated attempts to force a change in Iraq war policy have been largely unsuccessful due to presidential vetoes, disagreements within their own party, and the inability to attract Republican support for their policy proposals. Also, many of the Democratic leadership's domestic agenda items have not become law even though some have passed one or both houses of Congress.     

As the trend in congressional approval makes clear, ratings of Congress usually suffer during times of economic uncertainty, as during the late 1970s and early 1990s. While Americans' ratings of current economic conditions are not near historical lows, there is a great deal of concern about the direction in which the economy is headed. The latest poll finds a record 72% of Americans saying the economy is "getting worse."   

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted August 13-16, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

Approve

Disapprove

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007

 

 

 

2007 Aug 13-16

18

76

6

2007 Jul 12-15

27

66

7

2007 Jun 11-14

24

71

5

2007 May 10-13

29

64

7

2007 Apr 2-5

33

60

7

2007 Mar 11-14

28

64

8

2007 Feb 1-4

37

55

8

2007 Jan 15-18

35

56

9

2006

 

 

 

2006 Dec 11-14

21

74

5

2006 Nov 9-12

26

67

7

2006 Nov 2-5

26

63

11

2006 Oct 20-22

26

67

6

2006 Oct 9-12

23

71

6

2006 Oct 6-8

24

68

7

2006 Sep 7-10

29

63

8

2006 Aug 7-10

27

65

8

2006 Jul 6-9

29

61

10

2006 Jun 1-4

27

63

10

2006 May 8-11

21

71

8

2006 Apr 10-13

23

70

7

2006 Mar 13-16

27

65

8

2006 Feb 6-9

25

65

10

2006 Jan 9-12

27

67

7

2005

 

 

 

2005 Dec 5-8

29

63

8

2005 Nov 7-10

29

63

8

2005 Oct 13-16

29

64

7

2005 Sep 12-15

35

59

6

2005 Aug 8-11

36

58

6

2005 Jul 7-10

36

58

6

2005 Jun 6-8

34

59

7

2005 May 2-5

35

57

8

2005 Apr 4-7

38

54

8

2005 Mar 7-10

37

53

10

2005 Feb 7-10

45

48

7

2005 Jan 3-5

43

48

9

2004

 

 

 

2004 Dec 5-8

41

50

9

2004 Nov 7-10

41

52

7

2004 Oct 11-14

40

51

9

2004 Sep 13-15

41

52

7

2004 Aug 9-11

40

52

8

2004 Jul 8-11

40

53

7

2004 Jun 3-6

41

52

7

2004 May 2-4

41

52

7

2004 Apr 5-8

43

51

6

2004 Mar 8-11

42

51

7

2004 Feb 9-12

41

51

8

2004 Jan 12-15

48

45

7

2003

 

 

 

2003 Dec 11-14

43

50

7

2003 Nov 3-5

43

51

6

2003 Oct 6-8

41

51

8

2003 Sep 8-10

40

53

7

2003 Aug 4-6

45

46

9

2003 Jul 7-9

49

45

6

2003 Jun 12-15

50

41

9

2003 May 5-7

49

44

7

2003 Apr 7-9

58

33

9

2003 Mar 3-5

48

44

8

2003 Feb 3-6

50

39

11

2003 Jan 13-16

49

40

11

2002

 

 

 

2002 Dec 5-8

50

40

10

2002 Nov 11-14

47

39

14

2002 Oct 3-6

50

40

10

2002 Sep 5-8

52

40

8

2002 Aug 5-8

46

43

11

2002 Jul 26-28

53

36

11

2002 Jul 9-11

54

36

10

2002 Jun 3-6

52

38

10

2002 May 6-9

57

33

10

2002 Apr 8-11

57

34

9

2002 Mar 4-7

63

28

9

2002 Feb 4-6

62

28

10

2002 Jan 7-9

62

29

9

2001

 

 

 

2001 Dec 6-9

72

19

9

2001 Nov 8-11

73

19

8

2001 Oct 11-14

84

10

6

2001 Sep 7-10

42

44

14

2001 Aug 16-19

50

37

13

2001 Aug 3-5

47

42

11

2001 Jul 19-22

49

37

14

2001 Jun 11-17

51

34

15

2001 May 10-14

49

34

17

2001 Apr 6-8

55

32

13

2001 Mar 5-7

55

28

17

2001 Feb 1-4

53

32

15

2001 Jan 10-14

50

40

10

2000

 

 

 

2000 Dec 2-4

56

34

10

2000 Oct 6-9

49

42

9

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

48

42

10

2000 May 18-21

39

52

9

2000 Jan 7-10

51

42

7

1999

 

 

 

1999 Sep 23-26

37

56

7

1999 Jul 13-14

39

51

10

1999 Jun 11-13

41

53

6

1999 Apr 13-14

45

47

8

1999 Feb 12-13

41

54

5

1999 Jan 15-17

50

46

4

1998

 

 

 

1998 Dec 15-16

42

52

6

1998 Nov 13-15

41

54

5

1998 Oct 29-Nov 1

44

47

9

1998 Oct 9-12

47

46

7

1998 Oct 6-7

44

48

8

1998 Sep 11-12

55

36

9

1998 May 8-10

44

48

8

1998 Apr 17-19

49

40

11

1998 Feb 13-15

57

33

10

1998 Jan 30-Feb 1

56

35

9

1998 Jan 16-18

42

47

11

1997

 

 

 

1997 Dec 18-21

39

52

9

1997 Oct 27-29

36

53

11

1997 Aug 22-25

41

48

11

1997 Jul 25-27

34

57

9

1997 May 6-7

32

58

10

1997 Apr 18-20

30

59

11

1997 Feb 24-26

37

48

15

1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

36

51

13

1996

 

 

 

1997 Jan 10-13

41

49

10

1996 Oct 26-29

34

51

15

1996 Aug 5-7

39

49

12

1996 May 9-12

30

65

5

1996 Apr 9-10

35

57

8

1995

 

 

 

1995 Sep 22-24

30

61

9

1995 Aug 28-30

30

60

10

1995 Jul 7-9

35

55

10

1995 May 11-14

34

57

9

1995 Apr 17-19

37

54

9

1995 Mar 27-29

31

61

8

1995 Mar 17-19

32

59

9

1995 Feb 24-26

35

53

12

1995 Feb 3-5

38

53

9

1995 Jan 16-18

33

52

15

1994

 

 

 

1994 Dec 28-30

23

66

11

1994 Oct 22-25

23

70

7

1994 Oct 7-9

21

73

6

1994 Jul 15-17

27

65

8

1994 Mar 25-27

29

63

8

1994 Feb 26-28

28

66

6

1993

 

 

 

1993 Nov 2-4

24

69

8

1993 Aug 8-10

23

69

8

1993 Jul 19-21

24

65

11

1993 Feb 26-28

27

54

19

1992

 

 

 

1992 Mar 3 ^

18

78

3

1991

 

 

 

1991 Oct 10-13

40

54

6

1991 Jul 25-28

32

53

15

1990

 

 

 

1990 Nov 2-4

26

63

11

1990 Oct 25-28

24

68

8

1990 Oct 18-21

23

64

13

1990 Oct 11-14

28

65

7

1988

 

 

 

1988 Sep 9-11

42

42

16

1987

 

 

 

1987 Aug 24-Sep 2

42

49

9

1986

 

 

 

1986 Apr 11-14

42

37

21

1983

 

 

 

1983 Apr 29-May 2

33

43

24

1982

 

 

 

1982 Jun 11-14

29

54

17

1981

 

 

 

1981 Jun 19-22

38

40

22

1980

 

 

 

1980 Jun 13-16

25

56

19

1979

 

 

 

1979 Jun 1-4

19

61

20

1978

 

 

 

1978 Sep 8-11

29

49

22

1977

 

 

 

1977 Sep 9-12

35

44

21

1977 Aug 5-8

36

44

20

1977 Jun 3-6

34

42

24

1977 May 20-23

40

40

20

1977 Mar 25-28

36

42

22

1976

 

 

 

1976 Jan 23-26

24

58

18

1975

 

 

 

1975 Oct 31-Nov 3

28

54

18

1975 Jun 27-30

29

54

17

1975 Apr 18-21

38

48

14

1975 Feb 28-Mar 3

32

50

18

1974

 

 

 

1974 Oct 11-14

35

43

22

1974 Aug 16-19

30

47

23

1974 Apr 12-15

30

47

23

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