Welcome Congress! People hate you.

January 3, 2013

Welcome 113th Congress!

Here's the first thing you need to know: People hate you.

Ok, the Fix doesn't mean to be such a downer and "hate" may be too strong a word.  But not by much.

Congress has rarely in history been a super-popular institution but it has reached new lows in recent years -- as the public grows increasingly fed up with the institution's ability to do, well, anything. (In terms of bills passed -- one but not the definitive measure of accomplishments -- the 112th Congress was the least productive in history.)

Gallup keeps the best data on congressional approval so let's look at their trend on the question over time.

Here's the long view that shows that with the exception of a popularity surge in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, Congress has been more unpopular than popular since the late 1980s:

And here's just the last few years -- showing the steady decline in Congress' numbers:

Oomph.

Want to put Congress' approval ratings in a broader perspective?  This chart, which Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) made famous in 2011, does it as well as anything we've seen.

Yes, the 112th Congress was, at one point, less popular than America going Communist, Paris Hilton and the IRS.

There's two ways to look at these numbers if you are an incoming Member of Congress.

The positive view is that things can't get any worse.  After all, 2012 was the lowest year-long Congressional approval rating in the history of Gallup polling so the expectation is that the bottom has been reached. 

The negative view is that there's every reason to believe things in Congress will get worse in the next few months. With the debt ceiling fight, a showdown over keeping the government open and the looming sequestration cuts all coming to a head in late February or early March, Congress will be in the national spotlight again and there's little expectation of a simple (or non-ugly) solution to the looming crisis.

In short: It might get worse before it gets better. And, it might no get better.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake | January 3, 2013