Congressional Approval at Record Low, Republicans More Likely than Democrats to Approve
President 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%).
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.