Congressional Job Approval Hits Record Low

Once again, pretty much everybody hates Congress. However, it's unclear if that will matter come Election Day.

Capitol at night - AP Photo Ron Edmonds - banner

After a month and a half in which we saw Congress tear itself apart over a Federal Government shutdown and a Republican plan to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, followed by a flawed implementation of that law which has turned into a political football on Capitol Hill, it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that Congressional Job Approval has hit another record low:

PRINCETON, NJ — Americans’ approval of the way Congress is handling its job has dropped to 9%, the lowest in Gallup’s 39-year history of asking the question. The previous low point was 10%, registered twice in 2012.

Congress approval fell to 11% in October, during the U.S. government shutdown. Although the shutdown is now history, Americans’ views of Congress have not recovered, but instead have edged lower. By contrast, Americans’ confidence in the economy has begun to improve in the last several weeks. The continuing depression in Americans’ views of Congress has occurred even though the troubles with the rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act are now dominating U.S. political news.

Public displeasure with Congress is equally rampant across political groups, with Republicans (9%), independents (8%), and Democrats (10%) giving the institution similarly low approval ratings.

Twenty percent of Democrats approved of Congress in September, but their approval plummeted to 5% in October during the shutdown. This month, Democrats’ approval improved slightly, but is still well below levels measured earlier this year.

As always, the chart tells the tale:

Congress Approval November


To be fair, and as the chart makes clear, this number clearly does fluctuate depending on what’s going on in the news at the time. For example, even after hitting a record low of 10% twice last year, the number jumped up as high as 21% in late 2012, likely around the time of the 2012 elections. Additionally, until taking a dive in the past two months or so, the numbers stayed not to far away from that 21% number before nosediving as we headed into the shutdown showdown Furthermore, while the number has clearly been on something of a downward slope since 2009 when it nearly hit 40% in the wake of President Obama’s Inauguration, it also hasn’t stayed close to its low numbers for a considerably long period of time before rebounding into a range that, while low, is still closer to what has been the historical norm. Presumably, we’ll see something similar happen in the coming months unless, of course, Congress does something stupid again in the months to come, which is entirely possible.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there doesn’t seem to be much correlation between this Gallup number and the outcome of Congressional elections. With the exception of the 2008 campaign, when public faith in government at all levels was low thanks to the financial crisis. Congressional Job Approval has been at or near 20% on both of the last two occasions when its membership was up for reelection. One of those elections, of course, was 2010 when the GOP ended up taking back control of the House and making significant inroads in the Senate while the other was just last year when the GOP held onto the House while suffering some minor setbacks in the Senate. So, it’s unclear what this number actually means other than as proof of the old adage that everybody hates Congress, something that has been true ever since men like Will Rogers and Mark Twain were cracking jokes about the body.

Given the above, I’d be careful about drawing any political conclusions from this poll, or even from drawing any conclusions at this early point from the Generic Congressional Ballot, which RealClearPolitics currently has at a +5.6 point advantage for Democrats. In that particular case, it’s simply too early in the 2014 cycle to know if the number means anything or can be of any predictive value. The 2010 Generic Ballot, for example, fluctuated quite a bit in the year leading up to the elections, it wasn’t until August 2010 or so that the trend toward the GOP became apparent. I would expect that things will be the same in 2014, with the added caveat that post-2010 Census redistricting would seem to make the odds of the GOP losing the House very low.

Nonetheless, we can say that being a Congressman is now among America’s most hated professions. Nice work there, guys.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I think this reflects the correct impression that the government is totally dysfunctional thanks in large part to the Republican controlled House.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Well, when one party of Congress is willing to countenance default it’s not surprising that ratings are at a record low.

    Seriously, this poll is a good snapshot of where we are right now, however it has easily ascertained bearing on how voters will respond in 2014. Voters tend to support their representative and their party, while railing against those other representatives. I look at the Republican House and see dysfunctional frat boys, and I’m sure that Republican voters look at Democratic legislators and see socialist dogs. Each side is unhappy with the other side, not so many people are unhappy with their own side. What ends up being critical in the off years is turnout and new voters – so we’ll see.

    Also, this polling reminds me of a poll I read in the LA Times a few years ago – people were asked whether they thought there was an overall discipline problem in the public schools, and of course about 95% said “yes.” Then people were asked if their child had ‘discipline problems’ and over 95% said “No.” Now apart from the fact that 4% of the kids could actually create over 90% of the discipline problems, this reaffirmed to me that the public always views “the other guy” as the problem, not themselves and not their guy.

  3. rodney dill says:

    We all love for everyone else to vote their incumbents out.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    And this seems to be the Republican plan. Completely disrupt the normal functioning of government, then use the resulting dysfunction to claim government can’t work and run against the whole idea of government.

  5. steve says:

    If you look at polls on how people rate their own congressperson, they usually give them positive ratings. It is the other congresspeople who are causing problems. Hence, you have consistently low overall ratings and high rates of retention.


  6. michael reynolds says:

    We need to identify the 8-10 percent of Americans who actually approve of Congress, sterilize them, and thereby do wonders for the American genetic pool.

  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    Yeah, those guys suck, by my Congressman is just dandy.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Look at the line of that graph.
    There is a clear down slope since 2009.
    Clinton today said you should be able to keep your insurance.
    The White House Agreed.
    The House is getting ready to vote on a “Keep Your Policy” bill.
    There is a prime opportunity for moderates on both sides to get together and fix obvious problems with Obamacare.
    Let’s see how this plays out in the next few weeks.

  9. KK says:

    Have you considered doing a blog post on the President’s precipitous slide in the polls? Perhaps the Congressional failure and that of the President are related. After all, most people just hear about a Congress, not what party controls it. But they sure as hell know who stays in tga WH.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    Obama did it!

  11. Todd says:


    Have you considered doing a blog post on the President’s precipitous slide in the polls?

    I was just thinking about this. There were some stories the other day about President Obama’s approval dropping to as low as 39% in some polls.

    That sounds pretty bad.

    … until you look at these Congressional numbers.

    Everybody pretty much agrees that our government is broken. But practically everybody also seems to agree about where the majority of the problem lies.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    Headlne from the Gallop Poll of 9May2013: Americans Down on Congress, OK With Their Own Representative.

    Headline from NBC/WSJ Poll of 10Oct2013: 60% Say Fire Every Member of Congress.

    Headline from Fox Nation on 6Nov2013 about the then-newest Battleground Poll: Majority Want Their Own Congressman Fired.

    Don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows….

  13. Pinky says:

    I don’t think the usual “it’s the other guys’ congressmen” thing applies. People are unhappy with their own members of Congress. They may vote for them over their opponents, but they’re unhappy with them.

    Let’s be honest. No matter what party you are, no matter what your beliefs, you weren’t sitting around two months ago thinking “I hope Congress shuts down the government for 16 days then reopens it after resolving nothing and moving the crisis ahead by 6 months”. You’d have to be thinking that to approve of Congress’s overall job.

    And the people may not vote for their Congressmen over their opponents. The Tea Party is an expression of the desire to “throw the bums out”. Between people voting against their sitting representative in the primaries and in the generals, there are a lot of people voting against their sitting representatives.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    The Tea Party is an expression of the desire to “throw the bums out”.

    Certainly that is the perception, rather than the reality