Public approval of the U.S. Congress’s performance fell to 10 percent, tying a record low set in February, according to a Gallup poll.
The poll, released today, found that 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job, the latest in a string of poor marks that the legislative branch of government has received. The 10 percent approval rating, down from 16 percent in July and 17 percent in June, ties the lowest ranking registered for Congress since Gallup began measuring congressional approval 38 years ago.
“Generally, when people think of Congress, what they think of now is gridlock and polarization,” said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. “People never love Congress, but clearly now we’ve reached an all-time low.”
The greatest decline in approval was among Democrats. Nine percent approved of the institution’s performance in August, down from 18 percent in July, according to the survey.
The poll found equal disdain for Congress across political groups, with 10 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of independents saying they approved. The Aug. 9-12 telephone survey of 1,012 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Congress’s approval rating, which reached a record high of 84 percent in October 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hasn’t exceeded 20 percent in Gallup’s monthly survey since May 2011.
With the Nov. 6 election dominating lawmakers’ attention, neither party has an incentive to break the legislative logjam, Zelizer said. Both sides think their negotiating posture on fiscal and other matters will be strengthened if they win seats in Congress or their party wins the White House in the election.
“There’s no reason for Congress to act differently at this point,” Zelizer said. “This is the Congress that pretty much we’re going to have.”
Zelizer cautioned that congressional disapproval doesn’t necessarily translate into an anti-incumbent sentiment, particularly in presidential election years, when the contest for the White House often overshadows congressional races.
As of Aug. 14, Congress had sent 79 bills to President Barack Obama for his signature this year. Many of them name post offices and convey land parcels, and most of the rest simply extend previously approved programs.
This year’s slow pace of legislating is reminiscent of last year’s, when lawmakers sent to Obama 90 bills that eventually became law. The 2011 output barely topped that of 1995, when 88 bills were signed into law, fewer than at any time since the Congressional Record started keeping track in 1947.