Congress Isn’t Feeling the Love, But What’s New?

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President Barack Obama’s job approval is low – 45.8 percent so far in his fifth year as of January 21, according to Gallup, with the most recent quarterly average falling in at 41.2 percent. Still, by comparison, Congress is doing considerably worse. As of February 10, Congress’ approval rating was sitting at 12 percent, close to the same as December’s ratings, and only 3 percent up from its all time low of 9 percent in November of 2013. As it turns out, 12 percent approval is only slightly reduced from the yearly average last year at 14 percent for 2013, the lowest annual rating ever recorded by Gallup.

The division between Republicans and Democrats is of particular significance in light of the upcoming congressional elections. Overall, both sides saw a significant drop in ratings following the political standoff over healthcare and the budget, and the eventual government shutdown. February saw Republicans with the highest satisfaction rate in Congress, with 23 percent approval compared to 9 percent approval for independents and 7 percent for Democrats. Even so, all three have significantly higher job disapproval than approval, with 71 percent disapproving of Republicans, 84 percent disapproving of independents, and 89 percent disapproving of Democrats.

While Gallup noted that the party differences tend to vacillate between pollings, this is the greatest chasm seen between the party approval ratings since 2006, when Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress. Some, such as Tea Party members, are hoping to snatch incumbent seats in Congress this election season, a feat that is likely helped by present dissatisfaction with Washington at the moment. “This civil war has broken into actual warfare. We will never get the governance we seek until the people voting on policy are there to represent the people and not special interests,” said Tom Zawistowski to the Wall Street Journal, as the president of Ohio Citizens PAC, a section of the Tea Party that’s heading up the first GOP primary challenge to Ohio.

As a whole, Congress has hasn’t gained a quarter of American’s approval since December of 2009, and hasn’t hit half since June of 2003. Still, this isn’t so unusual when one takes a historical view of approval, which averages out to 33 percent when looking back as far as 1974. In 2001, Congress saw its highest approval rating of 56 percent, something Gallup attributes to “the rally effect after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

The especially low numbers sustained through the beginning of 2014 are quite possibly a result of an overall unhappiness with economic and political climate in the U.S. presently, rather than displeasure with Congress specifically. That said, Congress has been getting hit hard with political rhetoric, with President Obama making pointed remarks during the State of the Union Address and congressional hopefuls ready to pick apart what has been a rough last year in order to tilt votes in their direction. Still, there’s a solid chunk of time before elections actually roll around, meaning that there’s plenty of time for partisan popularity to shift while the balance between Democrats and Republicans could still be anyone’s game.

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