As the midterm election approaches, public views of Congress remain very negative. And a record share of Americans – 55% – say the current Congress has accomplished less than recent sessions.
Overall, just 28% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of Congress. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) have an unfavorable view. Views of the institution have improved, though only modestly, since reaching an all-time low of 21% a year ago. Congress’s favorability rating has been in negative territory for nearly five years.
Just 30% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 24% of independents view Congress favorably. Majorities in all three groups – 65% of Democrats, 68% of Republicans and 73% of independents – view Congress unfavorably.
Republicans’ views of Congress became more favorable after the GOP won control of the House in 2010. In March 2011, 38% of Republicans had a favorable impression of Congress, up from 22% the previous July. Even at that point, however, 55% had an unfavorable view of the institution.
Among Democrats, favorable views of Congress also have slipped since early 2011; in March of that year, 37% viewed the institution favorably.
The last time a majority of Democrats rated Congress favorably was in February 2010 (58%), when the party controlled the House and Senate. And the last time a majority of Republicans viewed Congress favorably was in January 2007 (59%).
Record Share Says Congress Has Accomplished Less than Usual
Americans see the 113th Congress as one of the least productive in almost 20 years. The share who say that this Congress accomplished less than its recent predecessors stands at 55%, up from 33% in 2010 and 43% in 2006.
Republicans (57%), Democrats (52%) and independents (58%) largely agree that the current Congress has accomplished less than usual. The public’s assessments of congressional accomplishments are less partisan today than at about this point during any midterm year since 1998.
Among those who say the current Congress has accomplished less, 44% say that Republican leaders are mostly to blame, 28% say Democratic leaders, and 22% volunteer that both parties’ leaders are to blame.
In 2010, those who said Congress had accomplished less –a group mostly consisting of Republicans –placed more of the blame on Democratic leaders (49%). During the 2006 campaign, when more Democrats said Congress had accomplished less, a majority blamed Republican leaders (56%).
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) say that Democratic leaders are mostly to blame, while 21% place responsibility on both parties’ leaders. Democrats overwhelmingly blame the Republican Party’s leaders, including fully 86% of liberal Democrats.
While Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party overwhelmingly blame Democratic leaders for the lack of congressional accomplishments (73%), non-Tea Party Republicans have more divided views: 48% say Democratic leaders are mostly to blame, but 29% volunteer that both parties’ leaders are to blame and 14% mostly blame GOP leaders.
Voters’ Views of Their Representatives
Currently, four-in-ten voters (40%) approve of the job their own representative is doing while 48% disapprove, little different than in September 2010.Today, Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to say they approve of their member (46% and 42%, respectively). In 2010, a 56% majority of Democrats, compared with just 36% of Republicans, approved of their member of Congress.
Only about a third (34%) of independents approve of their representative today, little changed from 2010.
When it comes to specific evaluations of their House member, 51% of voters say their representative is in touch with the people in their district, 46% say their own representative does a good job bringing government projects and money back to their district and 44% say their member “works well with those across the aisle.” At the same time, 53% say their representative “cares more about their political party than the interests of the country” and 40% think their member has been in Washington, D.C., too long.
There are few differences on these five measures overall between those who plan to vote Democratic in the fall and those who plan to vote Republican, except on the question of tenure in Washington: Those voting Republican (43%) are somewhat more likely than those voting Democratic (36%) to say their member has been in D.C. too long.
As expected, voters who live in districts currently represented by a member of the party they plan to vote for in the fall have more positive ratings of their lawmakers than do other voters in that district.
However, even among Republican voters who live in GOP-represented districts, fewer than half (44%) approve of the job their own member of Congress is doing. A majority (56%) of Democratic voters in Democratic districts approve of the job performance of their representative.
Among GOP voters represented by a Republican who know their lawmaker’s party, 54% approve of their job performance. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Democratic voters in a Democratic district who know their representative’s affiliation give a positive job rating to their member of Congress.
On the other hand, partisans rank the other side poorly if they know their representative is from the opposing party. Most Democrats who live in a GOP-represented district – and are aware of their member’s party – disapprove of their lawmaker’s job performance (55%); and 57% of Republicans who live in Democratic districts and know their lawmaker’s party also disapprove.
Many Voters Don’t Know Their Representative’s Party
Asked whether their House member is a Democrat or a Republican, 53% of registered voters correctly identify the party of their congressional representative; 22% pick the wrong party and 26% say they don’t know.
Voters with college degrees are more likely to correctly identify their lawmaker’s party: 71% of those with post-graduate degrees and 60% of those with bachelors’ degrees correctly identify the party of their member of Congress. Among those who have not graduated from college, far fewer (47%) answer correctly.
About six-in-ten Republicans (59%) know their representative’s party, along with 53% of Democrats. About half (47%) of independents know the party of their representative.
Men are more likely than women to correctly identify the party of their representative (60% vs. 46%), but no less likely to provide the incorrect answer (women are less likely than men to offer a response).