Harry Reid’s claim that Congress ranks lower than North Korea


(KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

“Is there anyone out there in the world, real world, that believes that what`s going on in the Congress of the United States is good? Our approval rating is lower than North Korea`s.”

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” July 14, 2013

 

This line by Harry Reid is a good one, earning him headlines as he made the case for rules reform in the Senate, but it almost seemed too good to be true. Is Congress really held in lower esteem than the xenophobic communist government in Pyongyang?

 

The Facts

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson pointed us to two different Gallup polls. One, from June, found that “confidence” in Congress was at 10 percent. The second, from March, found that the “favorability” for North Korea was at 12 percent.

Given the margin of sampling error in such polls (plus or minus 3 percent in first one; plus or minus 4 percent in the second), the difference between 10 and 12 percent is statistically insignificant. But there is a bigger problem, according to Scott Clement, survey research analyst at Capital Insight, The Washington Post’s independent polling group: the polls are measuring completely different things.

“The March Gallup survey is the only poll this year to ask ‘favorable’ opinions of North Korea, which provides a clean way to compare popularity,” Clement said. “Reid’s office is comparing favorability of North Korea to confidence  in Congress, which are not comparable, since the word ‘confidence’ may refer to specifics of ability and effectiveness rather than basic likeability (akin to job approval).”

Apples to apples, how does Congress fare against North Korea? 

“A March Washington Post-ABC News poll found 30 percent holding favorable views of Congress vs. 65 percent unfavorable, a month after Gallup found North Korea with a  12 percent favorable/84 percent unfavorable rating,” Clement said.  “A January Pew Research Center poll with even closer question wording to Gallup  found somewhat lower favorable ratings for Congress—23 percent vs. 68 percent unfavorable, but still a far less negative margin than views of North Korea in the Gallup poll.”

We also found one poll, by Public Policy Polling in January, that actually directly compared the popularity of Congress against North Korea. In the poll, conducted via automated telephone interviews, Congress ranked lower than a range of somewhat offbeat items -- root canals, NFL replacement referees, head lice, colonoscopies, traffic jams, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen, Brussels sprouts, even cockroaches!  But Congress still managed to beat North Korea by a huge margin—61 to 26 percent.

 

The Pinocchio Test 

No matter how you slice it, Congress appears to have a higher favorability rating than North Korea. Reid might have been on solid ground if he had said cockroaches outranked Congress, but even frustrated Americans have yet to say Congress is worse than a regime than enslaves and starves millions of people.

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Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.
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