Perceived Inaction Largely Behind Low Ratings of Congress

by Jeffrey M. Jones

48% of Americans disapprove of Congress for perceived lack of action

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Congress is returning from its summer recess at a time when the public is highly dissatisfied with the job it is doing. Last month, Congress' approval rating was 18% -- matching the lowest Gallup has measured since it first asked the question in 1974. To gain more insight as to why Americans are so displeased with Congress, an Aug. 23-26, 2007, Gallup Panel survey asked Americans to explain in their own words why they hold the view they do about Congress.

The poll results make clear that Americans who disapprove of the job Congress is doing are frustrated with perceived inaction -- either in general or in regards to specific issues such as the Iraq war, illegal immigration, or serving the needs of the people. There is also a widely held perception that there is too much bickering and party politics in Congress. The relatively small proportion of Americans who approve of Congress are largely giving them credit for trying, even while acknowledging they are not accomplishing much.

Why Most Americans Disapprove of Congress

The following table shows the results of the open-ended question asked of those who disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

What are some of the reasons why you disapprove of the job Congress is doing? [OPEN-ENDED]

 

 

%

Not doing/passing anything (non-specific)

19

Not making progress in ending the war in Iraq

16

Need to pay more attention to the needs of the people

14

Too partisan/Party politics

11

Too beholden to special interests/lobbyists

11

Need to stand up to the president more

10

Democrats not doing what they were elected to do

9

Too much bickering

6

Not addressing illegal immigration problem/securing borders

5

Spending too much

5

Just going after the president/attacking him

4

Gridlock/stalemate

2

   

Other

3

No reason in particular (vol.)

1

No opinion

2

Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.

 

It is clear that much of the frustration Americans have with Congress stems from the perception that it is not doing what it should be doing, or what the public wants it to do, including not passing anything (mentioned by 19% of those who disapprove of Congress), not ending the war in Iraq (16%), not paying enough attention to the needs of the people (14%), not standing up to the president enough (10%), and not dealing with illegal immigration (5%), or general mentions of stalemate or gridlock (2%). Nine percent also say the Democrats are not doing what they were elected to do last fall. All told, 67% of those who disapprove of Congress mention some type of congressional inaction as a reason why they disapprove of Congress. That translates into 48% of all Americans who disapprove of Congress for perceived inaction.

Most of the remaining reasons for disapproving of Congress center on two additional themes -- disagreements with how Congress operates and complaints that there is too much bickering and partisan fighting in Congress. The specific operational disagreements include mentions that Congress is too beholden to special interests (11%) and that it is spending too much (5%). Partisan bickering is exemplified by those who say Congress is too partisan (11%), there is too much bickering in the institution, and that Congress is mainly just attacking the president (4%).

An analysis of the three broad categories of responses (inaction, partisan bickering, and disagreements with what Congress has done) by party affiliation shows that Democrats who disapprove of the job Congress is doing are much more likely than Republicans to cite inaction in their reasoning, even though inaction is easily the dominant reason supplied by disapprovers of both parties. Republicans who disapprove of Congress are much more likely than Democratic disapprovers to mention partisan bickering in their reasons for their disapproval, and slightly more likely to mention operational disagreements.

Why Some Americans Approve of Congress

Recent Gallup polling has found only about one in five Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Given that Congress is held in such low esteem, the reasons for approving of Congress might be harder to anticipate than the reasons for disapproving.

What are some of the reasons why you approve of the job Congress is doing? [OPEN-ENDED]

 

 

%

Doing the best they can under difficult circumstances

18

Trying to end the war in Iraq

17

Concentrating on domestic policies such as healthcare, minimum wage, etc.

14

Serving as a check on President Bush

7

Things are good in the country (non-specific)

6

Have different ideas/new approach

5

Bipartisanship returning to Congress

5

Economy doing well/low unemployment

4

   

Other

1

No reason in particular (vol.)

15

No opinion

14

Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.

It is notable that the most common theme in these responses -- mentioned by 35% of approvers -- is that Congress is trying, even if it is not necessarily accomplishing anything. Eighteen percent mention that Congress is "doing the best it can under difficult circumstances" and 17% give it credit for "trying to end the war in Iraq."

The next most common set of reasons for approving of Congress revolves around the approach it is taking to governing. This includes its concentrating on domestic issues (14%), serving as a check on President Bush (7%), having new ideas or a different approach (5%), and renewed attempts at bipartisanship after Republican rule for most of the last seven years (5%).

Congress also receives some credit for perceived favorable conditions in the country in general (6%) and with the economy in particular (4%).

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 23-26, 2007. Gallup panel members are recruited through random selection methods. The panel is weighted so that it is demographically representative of the U.S. adult population. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 748 respondents who say they disapprove of the job Congress is doing, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 215 respondents who say they approve of the job Congress is doing, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 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.

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