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No contest: president vs. Congress

A president more popular than Congress? Turns out that's the norm in polls over the past 35 years, as the legislative branch regularly trails the commander in chief in terms of public approval.

The two ratings - presidential and congressional approval - are baseline gauges of institutional well-being and mainstays of political analysis. They also tend to parallel one another closely, moving in near lock-step upwards, and down. But presidential approval is almost always higher.

In nearly 100 Washington Post-ABC News polls back to 1989, presidential approval topped congressional approval more than 90 percent of the time. In 200 Gallup polls dating to 1974, presidential approval was higher in 198.

On average, in proximate polls asking the two questions, presidential approval was 14 points higher in Post-ABC polls from 1989 to now and 15 points higher in the Gallup data back to 1974.

The latest Post-ABC and Gallup polls show the president's advantage over Congress at unusually high numbers (25 and 32 points, respectively), which is similar to the new AP data (31 point lead for the president).

The high-point for presidential advantage in Gallup polls came in July 1991, when 71 percent of Americans said they approved of the job George Bush was doing as president, compared with 32 percent who said so of the Congress at the time. Bush 41 also benefited from the largest such gap in Post-ABC polls: in January 1990, 79 percent approved of the way he was handling the presidency, far higher than the 39 percent who gave the Congress good marks.

In Post-ABC data, congressional approval surpassed presidential approval only in the months after the 2006 midterms, when George W. Bush's ratings continued their slide. Bush 43 also captured one of the two times congressional ratings were higher in Gallup data. The other time: April 1974, when 30 percent approved of Congress, 25 percent of then-president Richard M. Nixon.

By Jon Cohen  |  March 10, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency  
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