As Congress returns for the 2012 session, the American public’s view of the institution is as negative as it has ever been in over 25 years of Pew Research Center surveys. Just 23% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of Congress, while 69% have an unfavorable view.
These opinions are little changed from August of last year when views of Congress turned sharply more negative in the midst of the debate over extending the nation’s debt ceiling.
There is virtually no partisan gap in ratings of Congress – 29% of Republicans and 26% of Democrats say they have a favorable opinion of Congress. Even fewer independents, just 19%, view Congress favorably.
Not only are views of Congress negative, but so too are views of the two majority leaders. Only 21% say they have a favorable view of John Boehner while nearly twice as many (40%) have an unfavorable view; 39% have no opinion or have not heard of him. The public’s opinion of Boehner has turned sharply more negative since March of last year when just 27% expressed an unfavorable view and as many (26%) had a favorable opinion of Boehner.
Similarly, Harry Reid also receives very negative ratings. Just 18% say they have a favorable opinion of Reid while about twice as many (38%) have an unfavorable opinion. These views have changed little since December 2010.
While there continues to be a partisan gap in views of Boehner, his unfavorable ratings have increased across the board. Currently, 36% of Republicans express a favorable view of Boehner while 28% view him unfavorably. The percent expressing an unfavorable view has increased 13 points since March of last year when Republicans viewed Boehner far more favorably than unfavorably.
Independents view Boehner far more negatively now than they did last year, and nearly as critically as do Democrats. By a 43% to 19% margin more have an unfavorable opinion of Boehner than a favorable one. In March 2011, opinion among independents was divided (25% favorable, 27% unfavorable).
Harry Reid’s favorability among Democrats has dropped substantially over the past year. Currently, only 27% of Democrats say they have a favorable opinion of Reid while nearly as many (24%) have an unfavorable view. In December 2010, far more viewed him positively than negatively (40% vs. 23%). Views of Reid are very negative among both Republicans and independents, and have changed little over the past year.
Public Continues to Want Compromise
Most Americans want Obama and Republican leaders in Washington to work together to get things done in the coming year. A majority (58%) says GOP leaders should try as best they can to work with Barack Obama to accomplish things, even if it means disappointing some Republican supporters. Similarly, 59% say Obama should try as best he can to work with GOP leaders to accomplish things, even if it means disappointing Democratic supporters.
But Republicans, particularly those who agree with the Tea Party, are opposed to compromise when it comes to their own political leaders. Most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents continue to say that GOP leaders in Congress should stand up to Obama (55%) rather than work with him to accomplish things (35%). Similar to a year ago, Tea Party Republicans are the most likely to reject compromise. Republicans who agree with the Tea Party movement favor standing up to Obama on important issues by about a three-to-one margin (67% vs. 21%). By comparison, Republicans who disagree or have no opinion about the Tea Party are divided – 49% say GOP leaders should stand up to Obama while 43% say they should work with Obama.
Democrats are divided over what they want Obama to do. About as many Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say Obama should work with Republicans in Congress (48%) as say he should stand up to them on important issues (44%). More moderate and conservative Democrats (53%) than liberal Democrats (41%) want Obama to work with Republicans in Congress.