Congress finds a new home in the doghouse

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/09/2012

President Obama may be getting a little bump from some improved economic numbers.

Congress? Not so much. It’s still setting records for how unpopular it is.

A new Gallup poll shows Congress’s approval rating has actually hit a new low of 10 percent, despite some positive signs for the economy recently.

That’s down from the previous record of 11 percent, set just two months ago. Meanwhile, a record-high 86 percent of Americans continue to say they disapprove of Congress’s job performance.

So what gives? Are Americans going to stay bitter at Congress even if the economy turns around?

Quite possibly.

We’ll have to wait for more polling, but what we’re seeing so far suggests that the American people are hesitant to give Congress any credit for an improving economy.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising, given the gridlock that has consumed the nation’s legislative branch. The brinksmanship that has characterized recent battles over budget issues and the potential government shutdowns appear to have colored people’s perceptions of Congress on a somewhat permanent basis.

Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport said it’s hard to deduce precisely why Congress’s approval rating continues to fall.

“Congress at this point is again wrangling over the extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits — both of which were temporarily extended late last year in a short-term fix that expires at the end of February,” he said. “It is notable that President Obama has continued to make criticism of Congress a part of his broad presidential re-election strategy.”

It should be noted that this it’s still relatively early for wholesale changes in the president’s or Congress’s approval rating, and the economic progress is still very tenuous.

But right now, we’re seeing as big a gap between Congress’s approval rating and the president’s (50 percent in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll) as we’ve seen in a long time.

Generally, Congress’s approval rating will rise or fall with the president’s.

When Obama was first nominated in 2009 and was riding high, congressional approval rose out of the basement and into the 30s (riding high, we know).

After Sept. 11, 2001, when President Bush’s approval was sky-high, Congress’s approval rose from the 50s into the 70s and 80s, actually hitting a record high of 84 percent.

When the Iraq war became an Albatross for Bush, though, Congress paid a price too. As Bush’s approval rating hit the 40s, Congress’s dropped into the low 40s too.

Similarly, when overwhelming economic pessimism set in last year and Obama’s approval dipped into the low-40s, Congress was right there with him, setting new record lows for itself in the teens.

Those record lows have now persisted despite some positive news for the economy.

The question now is, if people are OK with Obama but continue to view Congress more negatively than ever before, how does that play in the 2012 election?

The answer is, we don’t know.

Generally, a change election means change on all parts of the ballot, generally favoring one party. What’s more, even as people dislike Congress generally, they are much less critical when it comes to their own member of Congress, so it’s not clear that dozens of members of Congress will be unseated.

But right now, the American people are a lot more upset with Congress than with Obama, and it may stay that way even if Obama and the economy recover further.

Which would make the 2012 election very interesting.

Romney sees extended battle: Responding to his trio of losses to Rick Santorum on Tuesday, Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he knew all along that the race wasn’t going to be a coronation, and that he sees a long primary ahead.

“There will certainly be places where he wins, and there will be places where I win,” Romney said, according to NBC News. “There’s no such thing as coronations in presidential politics. It’s meant to be a long process.”

As we wrote Wednesday, the race is looking more and more like an extended delegate battle.

Obama pollster analyzes Santorum sweep: Obama’s reelection campaign sent out a memo from pollster Joel Benenson on Wednesday afternoon arguing that low turnout and Romney’s poor performance Tuesday night spell trouble for the GOP.

“Tuesday’s results in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota confirm a trend that has been evident in each of the Republican nominating contests this year,” Benenson writes. “Republican voters are dissatisfied with their candidates – resulting in low turnouts, Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, Romney’s effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents.”

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein had a similar take.

Fixbits:

Romney defends himself against the White House’s accusation that he had the same policy as it does when it comes to requiring Catholic institutions to provide emergency contraception.

Five top Democratic super PACs may soon join forces.

Newt Gingrich makes a push in California.

Trying to emulate the agreement between Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D) in Massachusetts, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is seeking a similar agreement with his opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), to dissuade third-party groups from running ads in their race.

Jon Huntsman and Donald Trump have some words.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is up with a new ad in the Michigan Senate race, keeping with the “Debbie SpendItNow” theme but losing the China stuff.

Virginia’s Senate race: Still tied.

Mike Huckabee gets a radio show.

Must-reads:

Some legislators send millions to groups connected to their relatives” — Scott Higham, Kimberly Kindy and David S. Fallis, Washington Post

Big donors return to the RNC” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

Mitt Romney campaign songs, from sunny to angry” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

Senate 2014 Field Looks to Favor GOP” — Kyle Trygstad, Roll Call

 
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