After briefly ticking up in the immediate aftermath of the election, approval of Congress has resumed its steady slide down to approval ratings more commonly associated with skin infections, messy bedrooms and rainy vacations:


You can put a couple of spins on this. My basic interpretation is that voters have little interest in congressional minutiae and a strong aversion to high levels of partisan conflict, and this hurts Democrats and Republicans equally. That’s why different congresses are judged very similarly even though they’re often wildly different ideologically.

Replacing Democrats with Republicans has led to much more conservative legislative outcomes, and so if you thought that the 2010 election was about Americans wanting more conservative legislation, these numbers are puzzling. But if you thought it was about Americans feeling like things were going poorly, both in Congress and in the economy, then this makes sense: The economy doesn’t feel better and Congress isn’t any calmer or more harmonious, and so voters, rather than feeling like there’s been a change, simply see the same story with different bums.

I think that’s basically unfair — the issue isn’t individuals so much as the system they operate in — but it’s also an outcome that both parties in Congress have brought upon themselves by preferring an equilibrium in which it’s easier for the minority to regain power to one where it’s easier for the majority to govern effectively.