Congressional Approval at Record Low, Republicans More Likely than Democrats to Approve

Gallup 16 July 2008President Bush isn’t alone in being unpopular: Congress is down to 14 percent approval, the lowest in the history of the Gallup poll. While the approval numbers are the worst ever, there is a silver lining: “The 75% currently disapproving of Congress is just shy of the record-high 78% in March 1992”

Lydia Saad calls these numbers “extraordinary.”

Approval of Congress has fallen below 20% only six times in the 34 years Gallup has measured it. Including the latest reading, four of those have come in the past year: in July, June, and May 2008, and in August 2007. The two additional readings were from March 1992 (in the midst of the House bank check-kiting scandal) and June 1979 (during an energy crisis that resulted in surging gas prices and long gas lines), when either 18% or 19% of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing.

The most recent decline comes almost exclusively from Democrats, whose approval of Congress fell from 23% in June to 11% in July, while independents’ and Republicans’ views of Congress did not change much. As a result, Republicans are now slightly more likely than Democrats to approve of the job the Democratic-controlled Congress is doing (19% vs. 11%).

Gallup Poll 16 June 2008,

Emphasis mine.  That, more than the low overall approval ratings, is simply stunning.  It gets better!

The 11% of Democrats now approving of Congress is slightly lower than Gallup found in 2006, toward the end of the Republican-led 109th Congress. Democratic approval of Congress initially surged after the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House and Senate, from 16% in December 2006 to 44% in February 2007, but by August 2007 it had fallen to 21%. Democrats’ approval of Congress rebounded to 37% later that year, but has since been in a nearly continuous decline.

Yes, Democrats were happier with the Republican Congress that got thrown out on its ear in 2006 than they are with their own leaders in charge!   Presumably, this is an artifact of greater general dissatisfaction with the state of the country than with Reid, Pelosi, and company per se.  Still, an absolutely amazing finding.

Saad makes two other very interesting points:  President Bush’s numbers seem to have a floor of about 28 percent because of “a core group of Republicans nationally who continue to stick by him” and that “Congress may simply be less able to engender this kind of political loyalty.”  She ends with this depressing observation:

Finally, 2008 now looks an awful lot like 1979, and for some of the same reasons: mounting inflation, record-high gas prices, and a looming recession. Public approval of President Jimmy Carter in mid-July 1979 was 29%, very similar to Bush’s current 31%. And approval of Congress was also comparable: 19% in June 1979 vs. 14% today.

Frankly, it doesn’t feel like 1979 to me.  Inflation is higher than it’s been in years but it’s still low by 1970s standards and unemployment and interest rates are much, much lower.  Gas is ridiculously expensive but we don’t have long lines or rationing.  We’re sort of being held hostage by Iran again, albeit in a much less palpable way.

Another huge difference between now and then is that the incumbent president isn’t eligible for re-election. The question is whether Barack Obama will be able to make his “John McCain is a third Bush term” meme stick or, to keep a strained analogy going a bit, whether McCain can instead successfully push the “Obama would be a second term for Jimmy Carter” theme.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Presumably, this is an artifact of greater general dissatisfaction with the state of the country than with Reid, Pelosi, and company per se. Still, an absolutely amazing finding.

    I doubt it. I think that it’s more likely that quite a few Democrats, particularly activists, actually believe that everything they despise in our current government was solely the creation of the Republicans. AUMF? Warrantless wiretaps? NCLB? Lack of healthcare reform? All products of the Republican Congress!

    The latest Congress is a reality check and reality is more complicated than prevailing narratives. And hard.

  2. just me says:

    I think many liberal democrats are miffed at congress because they have had a recent string of what to them appears to be huge caving to the GOP (FISA being a big one).

    I think many of them had the impression that the democrats would take control and start rolling back everything they hate, end the war, and all sorts of other progressive legislation.

    It just isn’t panning out as they’d hoped. I think power and politics is intervening. The party in power likes to be in power therefore they don’t rock the boat if it doesn’t gain them anything.

  3. sam says:

    The question is whether Barack Obama will be able to make his “John McCain is a third Bush term” meme stick.

    Few more appearances on TV from Mark Sanford and no problemo.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The party in power likes to be in power therefore they don’t rock the boat if it doesn’t gain them anything.

    As rank and file Republicans have learned during the first six years of the Bush Administration, there’s a lot of difference between an opposition party and the same party once they’re in power.

  5. anjin-san says:

    We’re sort of being held hostage by Iran again, albeit in a much less palpable way.

    Really? Can you elaborate?

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    The best thing I can think about for an Obama presidency is watching the left go through the severe disappointment wen all the magic ponies don’t show up for the teddy bear picnic.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Can you elaborate?

    The whole nuclear thing?

  8. Michael says:

    The whole nuclear thing?

    So we’re threatening Iran with military action if they don’t stop their nuclear program, and they’re holding us hostage?

  9. Bithead says:

    The question is whether Barack Obama will be able to make his “John McCain is a third Bush term” meme stick or, to keep a strained analogy going a bit, whether McCain can instead successfully push the “Obama would be a second term for Jimmy Carter” theme.

    I suspect they both will be a success at this, at least among their faithful. I suspect where the independants will come around is on the question of a third Bush term being a bad thing. Given the recent successes in Iraq, and elsewhere, and the alternative of the increasing incoherent Obama policy statements, the independants may well be a harder sell than projected.