Opinion: Poll numbers for Congress head south

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We can only hope House and Senate members have been enjoying their summer recess because they’re getting some news that might put a damper on the rest of their break: a new Gallup Poll shows public opinion concerning Congress has sank to an historic low.

The survey reported that 18% of Americans approve of the job lawmakers are doing, matching the poorest figure since the folks at Gallup started asking this particular question in 1974.

That previous low was recorded in early 1992, a time when, as a news release from Gallup notes, ‘a check-bouncing scandal was one of several scandals besetting Congress, leading many states to pass term limit measures for U.S. representatives (which the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional).’

Abysmal as the new number is, it’s an American tradition for Congress to receive generally low performance marks. Voters often are inclined to express discontent with the institution in general while routinely returning their own representative and senators for term after term. Still, a couple of trends in the new poll should trouble the Democrats who reveled in their takeover of Capitol Hill in November’s midterm election.


First, the public’s attitude toward Congress has soured significantly since the start of the current session. In early February, roughly a month into the new Democratic reign, the Gallup Poll reported a 37% approval rating for Congress.

Secondly, a nine-point drop in the approval figure occurred over the last month, and the change stemmed entirely from dips in support among Democrats and independents.

As lawmakers left Washington in early August, The Times’ Noam Levey analyzed the dynamics that had led to partisan standoffs on several fronts and portended more of the same this fall. Given that prospect, the poll numbers for Congress could grow even worse.

The new survey, conducted between Monday and Thursday of last week, has margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

-- Don Frederick