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No One — Not Even Republicans — Likes Congress

And it’s been that way for more than a decade

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

No one likes Congress. They haven’t since 2003.

This week, just 13 days before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, that did not change.

The legislative branch’s most recent approval rating — 14 percent — was actually up compared to recent months, according to a new Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday.

Remember, the GOP has a majority in both chambers of Congress, so you might reasonably expect at least a chunk of conservative Americans to look favorably on their elected leaders.

But even among the 370 Republicans surveyed via web-based interviewing from Oct. 21 through Oct. 23, just 31 percent approved of “the way that the United States Congress is handling its job.”

Among independents, that number dropped to 9 percent. And among Democrats? Just 6 percent, with 74 percent disapproving.

From the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, Congress’ approval rating hovered somewhere in the 34 to 38 percent range, at times in the late-’80s peeking up above the 40 percent threshold, according to historic Gallup poll numbers. After the 9/11 attacks, Congress’ approval rating soared to 84 percent. It hovered in the 50 to 60 percent range for about a year as politicians grappled with their response to terrorist elements in the Middle East.

But that approval number steadily declined in subsequent years, finally reaching a low point of 9 percent in November 2013.

Two main factors have contributed to Congress’ plummet in public opinion, said Stella Rouse, a political science professor at the University of Maryland: heightened polarization between the two parties and crippling legislative gridlock.

“Nothing gets done,” said Rouse, the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. “People have a pretty strong perception that that is the case — that Congress is do-nothing over the past several years.”

Rouse noted that while Americans tend to harbor negative feelings toward Congress as a whole, that doesn’t extend to their own congressmen and congresswomen.

Americans rarely “ascribe blame to their personal congress person,” Rouse said. “It’s easier to ascribe it to the institution.”

More broadly, the same goes for party leaders.

Sixty-two percent of Republicans surveyed in the YouGov poll had at least a somewhat favorable view of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, numbers that have received a boost since the Kentucky Republican helped guide Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh through a contentious confirmation process.

Fifty-eight percent of Republicans viewed Speaker Paul D. Ryan favorably.

On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi boasted a 60 percent favorability rating in her own party, while her senatorial complement, Charles E. Schumer of New York, clung to 50 percent favorability.

“Those are majorities, but some of those numbers aren’t all that high,” Rouse said.

She, again, attributed those relatively deflated intraparty approval ratings to legislative gridlock.

“Because party leaders can’t get a lot done right now, those numbers are lower than they are historically,” Rouse said.

With midterms less than two weeks away, the electorate will soon determine the fate of its leadership in Congress.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to regain a majority in the House. In the Senate, the electoral map favors Republicans. Ten Democratic incumbents from states won by President Donald Trump are up for re-election this cycle.

YouGov surveyed a random sample of 1,500 U.S. adults stratified by age, gender, race, education and region. The poll’s margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.8 percent. The poll is conducted in concert with the Economist, which holds the largest share of Roll Call’s parent company, FiscalNote.

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