Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Negative Views of New Congress Cross Party Lines

Republicans Want GOP Leaders to Challenge Obama More Often

Survey Report

Negative Views of New Congress Cross Party Lines

The new Republican-led Congress is drawing harsh reviews from the public – including most Republicans. Just 23% of Americans say congressional Republicans are keeping the promises they made during last fall’s campaign, while 65% say they are not.

Nearly four-in-ten (37%) say the new Congress has accomplished less than they expected, while 4% say it has accomplished more than expected. About half (53%) say its accomplishments are in line with what they expected.

On both measures, the public’s views are far more negative than they were of the Democratic-led Congress in March 2007, after the Democrats regained control of both chambers following several years of Republican control. Views are also much more negative than they were in April 1995, shortly after the GOP had gained control of the House and Senate for the first time in four decades.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 12-18 among 2,002 adults, finds that just 22% approve of the job performance of Republican congressional leaders, little changed since the summer of 2011. Ratings for Democratic congressional leaders are somewhat better (33% approve).

Republicans Are Critical of the New Congress and its Leaders

Unlike after some previous partisan turnovers on Capitol Hill, negative assessments of the new Congress now cross party lines. Today, just 41% of Republicans approve of the job their party’s leaders in Congress are doing. By comparison, in April 2011, 60% of Republicans approved of GOP leaders’ job performance and in April 1995, 78% approved of GOP leadership’s policies and proposals.

And just 37% of Republicans say their party’s leaders are keeping their campaign promises, while 53% say they are not. In 2011, after the party won its House majority, 54% said GOP leaders were keeping promises. And in April 1995 — as the Republican-led Congress hit the 100-day milestone — fully 80% of Republicans said this.

Democrats were also relatively upbeat about their party’s leaders at the 100-day mark in 2007, when 60% said Democratic leaders were keeping their campaign promises.

Currently, Republicans (36%) are about as likely as Democrats (38%) or independents (38%) to say Congress is accomplishing less than they expected.

Most Republicans Favor a More Confrontational Stance Toward Obama

To be sure, public views of Congress overall have been negative for several years, since well before Republicans won control of the Senate last fall or gained control of the House in January 2011. In March, 22% expressed a favorable opinion of Congress; in March 2010, when Democrats still controlled Congress, just 26% had a favorable view.

The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.

Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.

The survey also finds:

Democrats more positive about party’s handling of issues. About six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (62%) say the Democratic Party is doing a good job representing their views on same-sex marriage, 51% say the same about the party’s stance on immigration and 47% think the party does well in representing their views on government spending.

Republicans and Republican leaners are more critical of their party on all three issues: 35% say it does well in representing their views on government spending, 34% on illegal immigration and 29% on same-sex marriage.

Obama job approval little changed. Currently, 46% approve of Obama’s job performance, while 48% disapprove. Obama’s job approval is little changed over the course of 2015: In January, 47% approved and 48% disapproved.

More say jobs are available locally. About three-in-ten Americans (27%) rate national economic conditions as excellent or good, while 73% say they are only fair (43%) or poor (30%). Economic attitudes also are little changed since the start of the year, but positive views have increased 10 points since April 2014. Over the same period, the percentage saying plenty of jobs are available locally has risen 13 points (from 27% to 40%).

Views of Congressional Leaders

Low Marks for Congressional Leaders in Both Parties

Public evaluations of the congressional leadership of both parties remain negative. Today, just a third (33%) say they approve of the job Democratic leaders are doing, while even fewer (22%) say they approve of GOP Congressional leadership.

Ratings for the Congressional leadership of both parties have been relatively stable over the past few years. Though the job approval ratings of both GOP and Democratic leadership rose slightly earlier this year, current ratings are now on par with attitudes last spring.

Republican Views of GOP Congressional Leadership Have Declined Since February

While the overall ratings of Republican congressional leaders over the last few months have dropped a modest four points, Republican ratings of their own party’s leadership have moved in a significantly negative direction over the first few months of a GOP-controlled Congress.

Today, more Republicans say they disapprove (55%) than approve (41%) of the Republican congressional leadership’s job performance. In February, Republican evaluations were more positive (50% of Republicans approved of the GOP leadership’s job performance, 44% disapproved). And this shift in opinion is primarily seen among conservative Republicans: 54% approved of GOP congressional leaders’ job performance in February, today just 41% approve. By contrast, Democratic views of their party’s congressional leadership are substantially more positive and are little changed over this time. Currently 60% of Democrats approve of the job performance of Democratic leaders, while 35% disapprove.

Independent views of the two parties largely track those of the overall public: Just 19% approve of GOP leaders’ job performance, while 27% approve of Democratic congressional leadership.

Partisans Rate Their Parties on Current Issues

On a set of three current issues – government spending, illegal immigration and same-sex marriage – rank-and-file Republicans are much more critical of how their party has dealt with each than Democrats are of their own party’s performance.

Republicans Say GOP Not Doing Good Job on Set of Current Issues

Fewer than four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners say the Republican Party is doing a good job representing their views on the issues of government spending (35%), illegal immigration (34%) and same-sex marriage (29%). On all three issues, majorities of Republicans say their party is not doing a good job representing their views. And there is little difference in these ratings between conservative Republicans and moderate and liberal Republicans.

Republican ratings of their party on these issues are no better than they were in a September 2014 survey, prior to the GOP winning control of the Senate in the November midterm elections.

By contrast, Democrats are more positive about their own party’s performance on these three issues than are Republicans. About six-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (62%) say the Democratic Party is doing a good job representing their views on same-sex marriage, while just 30% say they are not doing a good job. Views are more mixed when it comes to illegal immigration and government spending. Overall, 51% of Democrats say their party is doing a good job on the issue of illegal immigration, compared with 43% who say they are not doing a good job. On the issue of government spending, as many Democrats say their party is doing a good job representing their views on the issue (47%) as say it is not doing a good job (47%). Democratic views have shown little change on these measures since the questions were last asked in September 2014.

Little Change in Overall Views of Obama

Obama Job Approval: 2009-2015

Barack Obama’s overall approval ratings have been stable over the course of 2015. Currently about as many say they approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president as say they disapprove of his job performance (46% vs. 48%).

Obama’s Mixed Ratings on Issues

Similar to his overall approval ratings, the public is about evenly divided in its ratings of how Obama is handling race relations (48% approve, 44% disapprove) and the threat of terrorism (47% approve, 46% disapprove).

But on several other key policy areas, there is more disapproval than approval of Obama’s performance. Ratings of Obama’s performance on the economy remain relatively unchanged over the past year: 52% disapprove, while 43% approve.

And a majority of Americans continue to disapprove (56%) of how the president is handling immigration policy.

Obama’s ratings on foreign policy and his handling of Iran are similarly in negative territory. And amid debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, 39% of respondents say they approve of Obama’s handling of international trade, while 44% say they disapprove; 17% do not offer a rating of his performance on trade.

Obama’s Ratings on Race Relations Improve

Obama Job Rating on Race Relations Rebounds

Obama’s handling of race relations is currently one of his better ratings: 48% approve, while 44% disapprove. This is up eight points from December, in a poll conducted in the immediate wake of grand jury decisions not to charge police officers in the deaths of African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City and the associated protests. Public reactions to how the president is handling race relations are now equal to where they were in August (48% approved).

Obama’s improved rating is seen across most political and demographic groups. About seven-in-ten blacks (71%) now approve of his efforts on race relations, though he ended the year with 57% of blacks giving him a positive rating and 33% a negative one. His marks among blacks are now on par with those of August.

The views of whites are more mixed, with 43% today approving of Obama’s handling of race relations and half (50%) disapproving. This is an improvement from December when most gave him a negative rating (33% approved, 57% disapproved).

On balance, Hispanics remain positive toward Obama on this issue: 53% now approve of his handling of race relations and 37% disapprove. Hispanic ratings of Obama on this issue have remained relatively stable since last August.

Democrats continue to rate Obama highly for his handling of race relations. About seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) – including 80% of liberal Democrats – approve of how he is handling the issue.  As with many policy areas, far more Republicans disapprove (71%) than approve (23%) of how Obama handles race relations. The attitudes of independents mirror those of the public overall.

Views of Job Availability, National Economy

Young Adults Perceive More Job Opportunities in Community

Four-in-ten (40%) currently say there are “plenty of jobs available” in their community, though 53% still see local jobs as difficult to find. The current assessments of job availability continue an upward trend over the last five years and are among the most positive since 2001. In March 2010 — when the unemployment rate was almost 10% — 85% said jobs were difficult to find and just 10% said plenty of jobs were available.

Younger adults and those with some college experience are most likely to be optimistic about job opportunities: 55% of adults 18-29 and 42% of those 30-49 say there are plenty of jobs available, but just 31% of adults 50 and older say the same. Among those with a college degree, 43% say there are plenty of jobs available locally, as do 47% of those with some college experience but who do not have a Bachelor’s degree; by comparison, just 32% of those with a high school degree or less education say there are plenty of jobs available in their community.

Since April of 2014 there has been a 13-percentage point rise in the share of the public saying there are plenty of jobs available in the local communities.

National Economic Ratings Steady; Majority Expect Same Next Year

Ratings of the nation’s overall economic conditions have changed little since the start of 2015 after increasing over the past few years.

About one-in-four say the U.S. economy is “excellent” (3%) or “good” (24%). A plurality (43%) continues to rate the economy as “only fair,” while three-in-ten (30%) say it is poor.

Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to rate the economy positively. Among Democrats, 36% see conditions as excellent or good and 64% say they are fair or poor; 16% of Republicans say the economy is at least good and 83% say it is fair or poor. And college graduates and higher-income adults are somewhat more positive.

Meanwhile, 53% expect the country’s economic conditions to be the same next year. Somewhat more say the economy will be better (25%) than worse (20%) a year from now. By comparison, many more were optimistic about the future of the economy in the depths of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.

Since Last April, Little Change in Attitudes About Economic Recovery

Today, people who are positive about the economy are the most likely to predict that it will improve. Among those who say the economy is currently excellent or good, 43% say it will be better in a year and 4% say it will be worse (51% predict the same). By comparison, just 12% of those rating the economy as poor expect improvement and 41% think it will decline over the next year (45% say it will be the same).

As has been the case for the last year, about two-thirds of the public (68%) say that the economy is recovering, but not strongly. Today, about one-in-ten (11%) see a strong economic recovery; roughly two-in-ten (19%) say the economy isn’t recovering at all.

Partisan Divide in Views of the Recovery

The share saying there is a strong recovery is somewhat lower than it was in January (16% then, 11% today), but remains higher than in April 2014 (when just 6% said the economy was recovering strongly).

Large majorities across partisan lines say there has been a less-than-strong recovery, but those in the GOP are more likely than Democrats to view the situation negatively. One-in-three Republicans (33%) say the economy isn’t recovering at all, compared with 7% of Democrats. On the other hand, more Democrats than Republicans think there is a strong recovery (19% vs. 5%).

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information