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Ask the Pollsters

It's August in Washington, a time when Congress leaves town, frequent thunderstorms roll across the Potomac and pollsters get to take one last deep breath before campaign season really gets underway.

Here at Behind the Numbers, we thought it best to use this opportunity to answer some questions from readers.

Reader Dennis commented on our post on Congressional approval and the presidential campaign and asked:

I don't get it. Is it only Democrats in Congress, or is it Congress as a body that folks disapprove of?

Americans express broad dissatisfaction with all of Washington these days, not just the Democrats. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in late-July found that only the Supreme Court has a favorable reputation, and even that venerable institution has lost some of its luster.

In our July Washington Post-ABC News poll, Congress received a 37 percent approval rating, just a touch better than President Bush's rating of 33 percent.

Democrats in Congress earn a higher approval rating than their Republican colleagues, but at 46 percent, their rating is eight points lower than it was at the 100-day mark of this session. Legislative battles over Iraq and immigration appear to have taken some of the shine off the new majority.

Jimmy Sanborn took issue with the same post. His comment:

They forgot to mention that the Republicans in the same poll continue to drop to a high of 64% disapproval. The highest since August of 2006.

The BTN post focused on how Democrats' changing opinions of their own party's members of Congress could alter a presidential nomination contest in which five of the eight candidates are sitting members. As a result, we did not mention the numbers from the Republican side. As Jimmy points out, they are heavy on disapproval.

Republicans in Congress have been viewed this negatively just twice before in Post-ABC News polls: in May of 2006 around the time of widespread pro-immigration protests, and in October of 1994 just before Republicans won control of the House.

Tw, another Behind the Numbers reader, feels that our polling might be skewed. He says:

WaPo numbers ALWAYS give Bush the highest approval ratings of any poll.

The nice folks over at the Polling Report maintain a page compiling President Bush's job approval ratings from national phone polls, found here. Our approval ratings have been about the same as other polls conducted in the same time periods.

We make every effort here at the Post to make sure that our polling is representative and to be as transparent as possible about what we do. More information about our methodology and full questionnaires for recent polls can always be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/polls.

Finally a methods question we did not get to during our Live Online chat last month. Falls Church wonders:

Are poll-takers obliged to follow the national do-not-call list?

Since polling is research, pollsters are not restricted by the do-not-call list. Legitimate pollsters will never try to sell you something or solicit a donation. For more information about your rights as a survey respondent, check out the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research's Web site, found here.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  August 23, 2007; 10:12 AM ET
Categories:  Ask the Pollsters  
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Next: Post-ABC CCI: Stable, But Far Below Average

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