Approval of Congress Hits New Low

Only nine percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job in a New York Times/CBS News poll, a new low since the poll has been taken. Even members of Congress are not surprised at the results.

Congressional approval has dropped from 20 percent in June, before the debt ceiling debate. Concern that a failure to raise the nation's debt ceiling would cause economic upheaval consumed most of the news from Washington in July.

In early August, Congress and the president reached a last minute agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Congress' job approval dropped to 14 percent in a poll taken shortly before the agreement. It was 12 percent in mid-September.

The recent poll shows President Obama's job approval rating at 46 percent. It has been in the mid-40's all year, except for May, when it peaked at 57 percent.

Historically, between the three branches of government (Congress, the president and the Supreme Court) Congress has the lowest approval ratings while the Supreme Court has the highest – ironic, considering that Congress is the most democratic institution, because it is elected and represents a broader swath of the public, and the Supreme Court is the least democratic institution, because there are only nine members and they are appointed.

Even though Americans generally have a low opinion of Congress, they tend to like their own member of Congress. Since the 1970's, members of Congress have been reelected more than 90 percent of the time.

Jobs and the economy are the most important problems facing the country, according to the poll. Thirty-three percent cited jobs and 24 percent cited the economy.

Obama has continued to promote his jobs bill proposal that seeks to stimulate job creation, mostly through increased government spending on infrastructure projects and aid to state and local governments. When asked, “do you think Barack Obama does or does not have a clear plan for creating jobs?,” 56 percent said he does not.

Congressional Republicans have offered competing proposals, which focus on tax cuts and reducing government regulations. When asked, “do you think Republicans in Congress do or do not have a clear plan for creating jobs?,” 71 percent said they do not.

Obama appears to be trying to take advantage of Congress' low approval rating. In recent speeches promoting his jobs bill, he often criticizes the “do-nothing” Congress. The Senate, however, is controlled by his own party. Obama and other Democrats have been describing Congress as the “Republican Congress,” in hopes that only Republican members of Congress will be tainted with the institution's low approval ratings.

Members of Congress seemed unsurprised, in interviews and twitter posts, that they are unpopular:

  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "We're down to paid staffers and blood relatives."
  • Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.): “That high?”
  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.): “I want to know who the 9 percent are, I'm afraid they have drivers' licenses.”
  • Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.): “It’s so bad sometimes I tell people I’m a lawyer.”
  • Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.): “We’re below sharks and contract killers.”
  • Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.): “It’s kind of like Tennessee football - it’s a hard season.”

The poll of 1,650 American adults was taken on Oct. 19-24. The margin of error is +/- two percentage points.

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