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Is Congress Getting More Popular?



The Capitol Dome

Days after passing President Obama's massive economic stimulus plan, new polling numbers from Gallup show that Congress' job approval ratings have gained considerable ground over the past month -- a boost that at least raises the possibility that Capitol Hill's long streak of unpopularity may finally be turning around.

The February Gallup survey showed 31 percent of voters approved of the job Congress was doing while 61 percent disapproved. While those numbers are far from stellar, they are a significant improvement over the dismal January poll when just 19 percent approved of the job Congress is doing while a whopping 76 percent disapproved.

The 12-point gain between January and February is the third largest increase in congressional approval -- as measured by Gallup -- since 2001. The largest jump (+42 percent) came between September 2001 and October 2001 when the attacks of Sept. 11 rallied the country behind the Congress and the president. When Democrats seized control of Congress in late 2006 the approval rating for the body soared from 21 percent to 35 percent between December 2006 and January 2007.

Looking more broadly at the state of survey data on Congress, there is evidence of a slight warming trend about how people feel about the institution. Here's the latest chart from the folks at pollster.com:

It's clear that Congress has grown more popular in the eyes of voters over the first two months of 2009.

Why?

It's easy to conclude that the numbers have to do with the approval of Obama's stimulus plan in short order -- proof that Congress can quickly move to address the pressing problems in the country.

While facile, that explanation falls short, as the time when this Gallup survey was in the field -- Feb. 9-12 -- came in the heart of the battle between Obama and Republicans over the plan. The bill's passage last Friday night -- and subsequent positive attention the legislation garnered over the weekend -- came well after the poll had come out of the field.

So, what are the other possible explanations?

First, and most likely, is that congressional approval traditionally tracks with presidential approval -- albeit somewhat lower -- and with the change from the extended unpopularity of former president George W. Bush to the high approval ratings of President Obama some level of bump is expected.

"It is part of the new administration bounce," said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster and partner in Public Opinion Strategies. "Whether it holds or not depends on the direction the economy takes."

A look back at recent political history provides credence to Bolger's theory. In a January 2001 Gallup poll -- the earliest days of the Bush presidency -- 50 percent of voters approved of the job Congress was doing while 40 percent disapproved. Within a month, the approve number was 29 points higher than the disapprove mark and that disparity stayed in the mid to high teens for the next six months.

Looking further inside the numbers, the gains in congressional approval come almost exclusively from Democrats who, even though their party controlled the House and Senate between 2006 and 2008, appear to have strongly rallied behind their party in the first few months of the year.

In the Gallup poll, the support among Democrats more than doubled between January and February -- from 18 percent to 43 percent -- while congressional approval moved up far more marginally among Independents (17 percent to 29 percent) and actually declined among Republicans (23 percent to 19 percent).

Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster at Garin-Hart-Yang Research, points out that the Gallup data "confirms the energy that Democrats are feeling with a new Democratic
president and a united Democratic agenda" but also points to the "limits of bipartisanship."

All sides in the debate agree that it's important not to draw too many conclusions about voters' attitudes toward Congress based on a single poll or even a series of surveys taken in the immediate aftermath of a change in the White House.

The underlying numbers do suggest that bipartisanship may not be the end goal for either side as Democrats appear to be rallying behind their president while Republicans are retreating more and more into their own past partisanship.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 17, 2009; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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Comments

The laws of economics are immutable - they function whether we want them to or not, and are independent of the pretension of legislators. They will not be mocked, nor will they, even when confronted by all the HOPE in the world, be CHANGED.
In America today, our ignorance of economics is only be exceeded by our intellectual confusion. Our collective ignorance has enabled the naming of the massive misplacement of wealth as a STIMULUS package. And our intellectual confusion is so profound that it leads us to conclude that the SOLUTIONS to our problems come from Washington D.C. - the primary SOURCE of them.
Plato's pupil Aristotle once wrote an essay entilted A is A. Its premise is that something can only be what it is - it simply CANNOT be anything else. He further postulated that the refusal to recognize this simple notion is the foundation for endless strife in our personal and societal lives.
The Ancient Greeks were pretty smart..................
They didn't like Kings.
And they knew that A will always be A - no matter what you call it.

Posted by: leapin | February 18, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Congress equals snake belly.
Congress equals snake oil salesman
Yea, right, their appoval rating is up, my foot, or should I say my finger.

Posted by: iamzbacku | February 18, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

You mean the Congress that does NOT read a $800 BILLION stimulus bill? Anybody that APPROVES of this congress I label as a 57 percenter. You know, the Obamanuts that Zogby polled and 57% still thought the Republicans CONTROLLED congress in 2008! That is what we are up against. The uninformed, the mis-informed, the IDIOTS!

Posted by: Glubber | February 17, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

The headline reads:

"Is Congress getting more popular?"

No. Absolutely not.

Posted by: furtdw | February 17, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

The reason people of all political persuasions disapproved of congress was it wasn't doing its job...it was not acting in any way as a check to the executive or judicial branches, in fact under the GOP congress was doing everything it could to rid itself of virtually all govt responsibility except pork barrel spending...and its quite possible the laws being written by lobbyists may have had something to do with the low approval. I just hope the Dems in the senate stop posturing and start getting serious about moving forward an agenda their constituents care deeply about. Please Congress, grow up fast and your approval rating will grow up as well.

Posted by: jpsbr2002 | February 17, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

TBN - At the previous thread I posted a link for you on Chinese trade policy and asked you what you thought Bush 41's contribution to the turmoil was, so to speak.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 17, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

bsimon;
congressional approval dropped because you could not tell Dick Cheney anything. He ruled the roost.
and then Pelosi came around.

The first State of the Union with Nancy (as speaker)--- sitting behind Baby Bush and right next to Cheney.
Oh boy....that Texan and that Hawk just hated it.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

ERIC CANTOR WAS ARCHITECT OF THE BANK BAILOUT, BUT REFUSED TO VOTE FOR THE STIMULUS, ALL REPUB'S VOTED AGAINST!

ANYONE WHO VOTED AGAINST THE STIMULUS BILL, NO MONEY FOR THEIR DISTRICT, LET'S SEE IF THEIR CONSTITUENTS VOTE THEM BACK IN!!!

CANTOR'S WIFE'S BANK GOT $100'S OF MILLIONS FROM THE BANK BAILOUT, IMAGINE WHAT HER X-MAS BONUS LOOKED LIKE!!

Posted by: Cookie100 | February 17, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I think its because the work that Congress is doing is finally making it to law. Remember that Bush had absolutely no qualms about vetoing pretty much anything the Democrats tossed on his desk. Thus, it seemed like lawmakers were doing nothing. Bush's strategy worked. The country suffered, but the Democrats looked bad. (guess which was more important to W?)

Now Congress has passed the Ledbetter Act and the stimulus. Those are as much victories for COngress as they are for Obama and I think the polls show that.

I realize that people don't vote on Congress as a whole, but I think these types of generic polls can give some clues as to the general feeling of confidence the country has in its lawmakers.

Posted by: DDAWD | February 17, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, that gaggle of do nothing dolts are just as unpopular today as they were anytime in the past. As hard as the mainstream media may try they will not be able to turn chicken manure into chicken salad.

Posted by: rplat | February 17, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

'I don't want to hear them whine when they wake up one day and find that they are about to lose their liberties.....'

and what 'liberties' are you talking about? The ones guaranteed you by the Constitution? The Bush administration took those away from you a long time ago, buddy.

Posted by: drindl | February 17, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

"The number of right wing authoritarians in any population is remarkably constant across nations and cultures:"

25 - 30% generally speaking. Absolutely true and an interesting comment on human nature. Also not a good sign for the fundamentalist direction the R party is apparently taking -- getting more out of touch and further from the mainstream every day.

Posted by: drindl | February 17, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

More popular? Isn't this a bit early to be polling the liberal followers?

Let's wait a little while to give people a chance to see what's being done for/done to them. Then poll them.....

Proof is in the pudding and ignorant people still believe the government is going to do something for them without realizing that in order to give something to one you must first take it from someone else.

I don't want to hear them whine when they wake up one day and find that they are about to lose their liberties.....

"THE ONE" is still claiming that this fraud is going to produce 3.5 - 4 million jobs. Yeah, right! Oh, I forgot ACORN must be hiring!

Heard his speech today; hear anything about drilling? Like it or not this country is and will be dependent on oil for many years to come. The only green you're going to see in the immediate future will MOLD!

Posted by: TexRancher | February 17, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"exactly. the tide began to turn."

Revisionist history. Congressional approval fell during the period between 2006 & 2008. Conventional wisdom says its because they didn't do much to thwart the Bush administration. From my perspective that's a reasonable analysis; Pelosi & Reid were regularly & consistently outmaneuvered by the WH & congressional Repubs.

Posted by: bsimon1 | February 17, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Why shouldn't their popularity go up? They're passing out money like there is no tomorrow. Its Christmas in February and everybody is looking to get a piece of the action. Just make sure you get yours, if you don't you got no juice.

Posted by: magellan1 | February 17, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

bsimon..
exactly. the tide began to turn.

do you know how many people started counting the remaining days of the Bush White House way back in 2006???

hey, when did "Mission Accomplished" happen?


Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"one reason could also be the fact that we made history with a female Speaker of the House."

She's been Speaker for two years.

Posted by: bsimon1 | February 17, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"Lest we place too much stock in popularity, we ought to recall that even Hitler was "popular" with his people for a time.
Posted by: michaelellis29"

Nice try at revising history. Hitler gained power with 30% support, then he commandeered the machinery of government to imprison his political opponents. Does that number 30% sound familiar? It should. The number of right wing authoritarians in any population is remarkably constant across nations and cultures: 30%. The same 30% that continue to support Bush and vote Republican.

Posted by: PutDownTheKoolaid | February 17, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

YEAH !! it is law.

President Obama in Denver, thanking all the folks and one of my favorite people in all the world was NO WHERE to be seen !!

(((hearty grins))
that would be Mr. John Elway, the Republican.
Touchdown John !!!!
MUUUUHHHAAAAA

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

After eight years of the party of gloom, the popularity of our Congress can only go one way, and thats up.

Posted by: shipfreakbo214 | February 17, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

wait, i need a pen!!!!!!!

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Lest we place too much stock in popularity, we ought to recall that even Hitler was "popular" with his people for a time. I care less for popularity than I do about the current congress' ability to pass legislation which helps enable the economy to rebound. If they are successful in this endeavor, popular or no, they will have done their elected duty.

Posted by: michaelellis29 | February 17, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Come on Chris, the real story is the rise in polls of the Democrats in Congress. The Republicans lost popularity.

Obviously what's on people's minds is the break-up of the logjam in Congress and that something, anything, is getting done.

Posted by: don1one | February 17, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

one reason could also be the fact that we made history with a female Speaker of the House.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

At least the congress is doing something to try to help people. It is still a slow torturous process. It seems almost unconscionable that it requires almost two thirds to pass something in the Senate. That just short circuits the majority will of the people. It gives obstructionists way too much power.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | February 17, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Why is Congress More "Popular" ...

BECAUSE PARTISANSHIP IN PURSUIT OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST IS NO VICE.


Now Congress must give Team Obama the cover it needs to restore the rule of law to a federal executive branch that continues to enable

COVERT TORTURE of U.S. citizens with RADIATION WEAPONRY APPROVED BY THE BUSH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FOR USE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT

*****************************************

ATTENTION: ATTY. GEN. E. HOLDER / DHS SEC. J. NAPOLITANO / STAFF (please forward)

RE: BUSH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT APPROVAL OF COVERT RADIATION WEAPONS USE ON 'INNOCENT BUT TARGETED' U.S. CITIZENS BY ONGOING 'EXTRAJUDICIAL PUNISHMENT NETWORK'

... coordinated multi-agency action "programs of personal destruction" manned by security/intel/revenue agents, local police nationwide, citizen vigilantes fronted by government-funded community policing and anti-terrorism programs.

WHEN WILL DOJ/DHS/DEFENSE BAN THESE CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
AND OPEN A CIVIL RIGHTS PROBE? THE VICTIMS CANNOT WAIT.

***

IT IS DAY 29 OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.

DO YOU *REALLY* KNOW WHAT YOUR SECURITY "MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER" IS UP TO?

http://www.nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-targets-terrorizes-u-s-citizens

http://my.nowpublic.com/world/domestic-torture-radiation-weaponry-americas-horrific-shame

OR (IF LINKS ARE CORRUPTED/DISABLED):

http://My.NowPublic.com/scrivener


Posted by: scrivener50 | February 17, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Beyond the trend to view Congress negatively as a whole (because it is to many people ill defined, whereas their own Representatives are more definitive), I think there are stats inside the numbers that make Congress's overall approval rating inherently negative and explain the recent trends.

1. The party out of power and ideologically-aligned independents will usually, outside abnormal circumstances like 9-11, inherently disapprove. This means you start with near 50% disapproval.

2. As a result, the actual approval of Congress may be more a metric of the internal metrics of the party in-power.

As an example: Congress received its lowest ratings when Bush was President and after the Dems took Congress, elected in the minds of Dem voters to stand up to Bush. Their failure to do so led the left to disapprove of Congress, driving their numbers down to the sub-20% range comprised mainly of moderate Dems. Now, with Obama in power and Congress supporting his agenda, you see a rallying effect of Dems coming home, driving up the numbers.

One takeaway if this is true: Congress ceiling in normal circumstances will be in the low-40s for approval, making the whole metric stupid and irrelevant anyways. Members will react to their own numbers, not Congress as a whole, and the President will almost universally have a higher approval rating, making it tougher for them to use that to push Congress around.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | February 17, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

"More popular than what?"

1) itself, 4 months ago
2) the prior president
3) the GOP
4) all of the above

Posted by: bsimon1 | February 17, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Someone ought to ban further remakes of any peter sellers movies. Steve martin couldn't do clouseau and barry Obama is not funny as chauncy Gardner.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | February 17, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

yes....it is getting more popular.
people are getting involved and actually reading.
and it is because we have DESIRE and HOPE again.

except for:
Madoff and Stanford.
"Robert Allen Stanford and his companies sold $8 billion of CDs -- guaranteed fixed-income investment products -- to investors by "promising improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates," the SEC said in a statement. The agency named in its complaint Stanford International Bank Ltd., based in Antigua, and related firms based in Houston."

crooked power brokers.
expect wall street to plummet more folks.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | February 17, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

More popular than what? Root Canals, Genital Warts, Dinner-Time Telemarketing Calls, Celine Dion Songs??

Posted by: newbeeboy | February 17, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Is an IrishBruin a UCLA grad who roots for ND or an ND grad who roots for UCLA or someone with degrees from both institutions?

This IrishBruin has analyzed the value of these polls correctly, I think.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 17, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Congressional approval numbers are next to worthless as far as polling goes. People are generally more inclined to have a negative view of "Congress" because it is a faceless institution.

People will disapprove of Congress in general, but if you ask whether one approves or disapproves of one's individual congressman or congresswoman, the respondent will almost always say that they approve.

So what you end up having is everyone saying they approve of the job of their personal representative, but disapprove of the job of Congress as a whole. This is inherently contradictory, and should caution people against using the approval rating of Congress as any type of meaningful metric.

Posted by: Irish_Bruin | February 17, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Leapin' - There is a third way. Popularity can go down and stay down.

The poor poll ratings of the previous Congress reflected dissatisfaction with its inability to change direction in the face of both a Senate filibuster and Bush veto. So, Republicans are still dissatisfied with Congress, but Democrats' opinions are turning around.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 17, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

When your popularity has been approaching zero the only way to go is up since polls can't go into negative percentages.

Posted by: leapin | February 17, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

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