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Congress deeply unpopular as economic woes, health-care battle fuel a disapproving mood

By Dan Balz
The long health-care battle and the economy have certainly taken a toll on President Obama and his administration. But the damage has been, if anything, more severe to the Congress.

Never popular with the American people, Congress has seen its image tumble further over the past year. The Democrats' final machinations now underway over health care, on top of the deal-making late last year to push the bill through the Senate, risk inflicting further damage.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal released earlier this week paints the picture darkly. Seventy-seven percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing -- near a record low point.

Half of the public (51 percent) said they prefer to give a new person a chance to represent them in the House, while only 38 percent said their own House member deserves to be reelected.

Half of the public would vote to replace every member of Congress if they had the chance. Among those who favor this blow-it-up strategy, most said it wouldn't matter to them whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the new House.

Normally, voters have significantly higher opinions of their own representatives than they do of the institution. That's still the case, but less so than in some times past.

Forty-five percent said they approve of the job their House member is doing, while 41 percent said they disapprove. When asked previously, approval of individual members was between 57 and 68 percent.

The Pew Research Center weighed in with its findings on Thursday, reinforcing the conclusion that Congress is the broken branch of government.

The most frequent descriptions for Congress among those surveyed were: "dysfunctional," "corrupt," "self-serving," "inept," "confused," "incompetent," "ineffective" and "lazy." Eight in 10 said Congress isn't working together and while blame is distributed on a partisan basis -- Republicans blame Democrats and vice versa -- independents blame both parties equally.

The leadership comes in for harsh criticism. Just 31 percent approve of the job Democratic congressional leaders are doing and 25 percent say they approve of the job Republican congressional leaders are doing.

But Democratic leaders have taken a much sharper hit than Republican leaders. Their approval rating was 48 percent 13 months ago, while that of the GOP leaders was just 34 percent.

Over the past year, Democratic leaders have slipped 19 points among Democrats -- to 58 percent. Republican leaders are rated even lower by Republicans surveyed -- 49 percent -- but at least can claim their numbers have risen a few points over the past year.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who with Democrat Peter Hart conducted the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, said there is "a virulent anti-congressional mood" in the country today that reflects broad economic anxiety across the country. He said the public's wrath is likely to fall most heavily on Democrats, as the party in power, in the fall elections.

"They are in serious jeopardy," he said. Noting that there were "not many positive numbers for Republicans" in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, he argued that the election year "is moving in a decidedly Republican direction."

His reasoning goes as follows: Republicans in Congress have had a negative image for roughly five years. In contrast, Democrats have been seen negatively by more than 40 percent of the public only five times since the poll began in the early 1990s -- but three of those have been since last December. He called that "a clear sign of where the winds are blowing."

Few Democrats would disagree with that, although there is disagreement over how bad the losses may be for the Democrats. Some forecasters predict Republicans will take over the House and possibly the Senate. Others, in both parties, anticipate sizable Democratic losses, but not yet their control of either chamber.

The president looks good only in comparison to the Congress. Thursday's Gallup tracking showed Obama's approval at 46 percent, with 48 percent disapproving. Wednesday's 46-47 split marked the first time Gallup has shown his disapproval higher than his approval.

Pew also pegged the president's approval rating at just 46 percent, with 43 percent saying they disapprove. That is the lowest figure Pew has recorded in his presidency and reflects overwhelming disapproval among Republicans, a net-negative rating among independents and some recent erosion among Democrats.

That means Democrats in Congress can't count on much help from the president until he begins to turn around his approval ratings. Whether they're able to do much for themselves is an even more pressing question. As the final chapter of the health-care debate unfolds on Capitol Hill, the stakes couldn't be higher.

By Dan Balz  |  March 18, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Dan Balz's Take  
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Next: Liberals embrace health bill, but with frustration


No one is surprised by the extremely low approval ratings for our politicians...The democratic majority and our current administration have chosen to focus on issues that aren't as imperative to our country as our nation's flailing economy. Our nation's unemployment rate is at an all time high and the housing market bubble has busted....They don't really seem to care about our nation's economic peril and they have chosen to turn a blind eye and deaf ear instead....I can't wait until 2010....

Posted by: Rhonda5 | March 22, 2010 12:56 AM | Report abuse

The Congress currently has the lowest approval rating in recent history with less than a 17% approval rating. And Nancy Pelosi is at an all-time low with an approval rating lower than Jack-the-Ripper's at 3%.

We need to dump them all and start over, before they can do any more damage to this country.

Posted by: mike85 | March 18, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

This dems make nixon look like a eagle scout.

Posted by: samuellenn | March 18, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

So what. I think the Democrats are on course for passing historic legislation, health care, jobs, education, much more, that benefit the American people. Name one thing Republicans have done. Name one thing teabaggers have done. Name one thing they'll do before the can't. It's our turn..we will take out turn!

Posted by: dudh | March 18, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Yikes,Herr Dictator Barack Hussein Obama and his band of National Socialist Nazi
Democrat Comrades under Botox Queen Frau Speaker Nancy Pelosi,Scumbag Steny Hoyer,
and Looney Toons Harry Reid Losers are now
in ever deeping major troubles when even
MSNBC Liberal Viewers donot want to vote to
re-elect their own Incumbent Democrat and
a 75% Disapproval of Congress Job Preformance and 51% of Voters wanting a new
candidate for their US Senator and Member of Congress and Herr Furher Barack Obama,
the Adolf Hitler Wannabe Poll numbers at an
ever growing larger Double Negative Approval Rating according to Thursday new
Rasmussen Poll for 3/18/2010 as well.

So,to continue Rasmussen shows 43$ Strongly
Disapprove of Obama's Job Performance and
just only 23% Strongly Approving of it!

And so, no wonder Herr Hitler Junior Obama
had to cancel his Total Waste Of Taxpayer
Money Costly No Earthy Good Purpose Trip
on his Luxury Air Obama US Air Farce Jet
to Indonesia so he can see his relatives.

We need to vote every damn corrupt gutless
Incumbent Democrat and Republican OUT in
2010 and 2012. Make One Term Obama Go Away!

Posted by: Patty1980 | March 18, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

And who is the problem?

Republicans insist BIG BUSINESS is the American people. The GOP hasn't proposed or supported a single law in over a century that didn't but the people's interest dead last behind corporate profits, tax cuts for the rich and disenfranchising, demeaning and oppressing someone.

Why do right-wingers hate so much, generally mankind, specifically Americans? Why do they attack America nonstop, doing the work of terrorists from the inside? Why can't they help us fix the problems in this country caused by their politicians instead of BEING the problem? Why can't we just get along?

Sorry. Forgot I was talking to right-wingers. Not a chance of them turning human.

Posted by: BigTrees | March 18, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Coburn: Senate Republicans Will Watch for Sweetheart Deals in Health Care

Posted by: snowflower | March 18, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

"The Democrats' final machinations now underway over health care" you say.

Objection! Objection, your Honor!

Balz cannot use a perjorative term like "machinations" to describe the Democratic party's attempt to pass such major, major, complex, complex, important, important, legislation in the context of Republican obfuscation, lies, filibusters, dirty procedural manuevers! It just isn't a word a journalist should use. Even one from the disintegrating WP.

Posted by: walden1 | March 18, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Exact Same Style weekend event by US Congress sent HelathCare bill to US Senate in LATE 2009. Several Problems then, US Congress was NOT In session that day/NIGHT & photos show Person with Grey hair, heavy set & Mustache, identified in News Release as US Congressional Sgt at Arms, whom Lost Job (fired) about 6 Years ago. Recently, earlier today, picture on internet with Same Heavy set gray haired & Mustached defunct Sgt at ARMS, with group in US Congress Floor area with Hon Pelosi, Seems that specific BAD guard Knows how to enter US Congress when out of session & Pull Spoof Photo session that becomes foundation for HealthCare bill Moving Bill on in Process, complete Fraud, Public Seems NOT smart Enough to UnderStand Mess has fallen into. terrible Crime, Right in Front of US Public Eyes.
Murder Is NOT Health Care & Prsent Bill Is Harvest of People whom bought BAD Package, NOT HealthCare At ALL. Entertainment Murder In isolated Place called hospitol. Inside Foundation of present HealthCare, Is HATE of Citizens of United States of America Lawyers Are that Way with Others. Whole Lie now called health Care Bill Needs Be Thrown Out, Defeated. Congress Is About To Criminalize HealthCare Process Further than every before. Public Being Duped & Repeat of first events in US Congress in Lat 2009. US CongressPeople Are NOT Above Law.


Posted by: thomasxstewart1 | March 17, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ThomasStewart1 | March 18, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

For the President known for voting "Present" - in other words not taking a firm position and trying to leave no trace - I'm sure the "deemed passed" seems like a GREAT idea! This way NO ONE has to take credit or blame for the mess that is being piled on the American people. Mess of debt, mess of bureaucracy, mess of government where it should not be.
Pitiful man, pitiful President, pity us all.

Posted by: YouAREkiddingright | March 18, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Wait until they see the voters exercise their rights in November. Deem? Pass? Right.

The most endangered species will be anyone wearing a "D" on his/her back. Do you hear me Betty Sutton?

Posted by: beebop1 | March 18, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Term limits have been in effect in Ohio for about 2 decades. Wildly popular in the beginning and viewed as means to stop the "corrpution," what voters now facing is a body with little institutional knowledge, top legislators (defined usually by dollars raised) always looking for the "next" job (8 years comes up quickly) and lobbyists close to running the show. Until we find a way to constitutionally neutralize the vasts amounts of money - from both R and D sources - that rule the system (first by determining election outcome and then subsequent legislation), "turning over" Congress will only result in more of the same. Different people, same system.

Posted by: sah2 | March 18, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Come on, we just don't think Mitch McConnell is wearing good dresses. His dresses have lost their beauty after his favorite Iraq War is slowing down.

Posted by: edfunk1 | March 18, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"As a disenfranchised, manipulated voter, until the day I die, I will never vote for another Democrat again. They have made a mockery of everything that America is (or was)."

Agreed. After Bush the change we wanted was accountability, honesty, level-headed decisions, integrity. What we got from the new Democrats was intense division in the country, open corruption on many levels, doubling or tripling of federal debt. The Democrats are the Party of Destruction.

Posted by: snowflower | March 18, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

We need to replace each and every congressman and senator and we need terms limits. Without term limits we will just fall into the grip of another professional political class.

Posted by: jdonner2 | March 18, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse


"Professional Political Class" -- Perfect description. How does that compare to the "Professional Media Class"?

Posted by: JAH3 | March 18, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

It's taken its toll on America's soul, as well. Being blind to the wishes of the county, I'm sure Pelosi, Reid, and Obama can sit back and say it was worth it. However, it's going to take a long, long time for "US" to get over this one. From my research, I firmly believe that it could take 60 to 80 years for America dig out the hole we're putting ourselves in (and what about Social Security?).

As a disenfranchised, manipulated voter, until the day I die, I will never vote for another Democrat again. They have made a mockery of everything that America is (or was).

Posted by: JAH3 | March 18, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Mercifully the Supreme Court will rule "deem & pass" unconstitutional, and Obama will have a *do-over* on health care to do it right.

At the very least he was grossly negligent in failing to address Medicare's $43 trillion unfunded liability.

Posted by: msa_intp | March 18, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

We need to replace each and every congressman and senator and we need terms limits. Without term limits we will just fall into the grip of another professional political class.

Posted by: jdonner2 | March 18, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

To richard36:

Which part(s) of the Bill do you consider a "festering lump of poor legislation"?

Posted by: Zarina1 | March 18, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

The Nov. Elections and the 2012 Elections will see the Democrats fall from power. The health bill could have been really worthwhile. Now, we're going to be stuck with this festering lump of poor legislation. Too bad.

Posted by: richard36 | March 18, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

The stress of the fight shows you what your congressman really thinks and is really like. Today, I read a quote from Rep. Stupak which said: “When I’m drafting right to life language, I don’t call up the nuns.” He says he instead confers with other groups including “leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee.”

His comments reflect the inherent disregard for the views of women in the Roman Catholic church. According to him, nuns don't have an influential voice.

The health care debate has again pointed out something, not just about health care, but about this representative.

I suspect if you looked carefully, you would find the same is true for many of our representatives. This brought out what they really are--for good or for bad.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | March 18, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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