The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Confidence in Congress drops to historic low

Lawmakers looking to become more popular with Americans should consider working at a bank. Or for a newspaper.

Americans' confidence in the House and Senate has dropped so low that it now ranks as the least popular societal institution in U.S. history, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday.

Public confidence in Congress is at just 10 percent, its lowest mark in the history of Gallup surveys, and more than half of Americans -- 52 percent -- say they have little or no confidence in lawmakers.

Making matters far worse, Congress ranks last on a list of 16 such institutions for the fourth consecutive year, lower than HMOs (19 percent), organized labor (20 percent), banks (26 percent) -- even newspapers (23 percent) (Side note: Why, America, do you consistently hate newspapers? Hmm??).

Overall confidence in Congress peaked in Gallup surveys in 1973, slid for a few years and climbed to 41 percent in 1986, before beginning a precipitous slide.

The number should come as no surprise even to the most casual observer of American politics, because with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill locked in dispute on virtually every issue, public perceptions have been poor for years.

Just 16 percent of adults approved of Congress in a Washington Post-ABC News poll from March, on par with results in our polling from recent years. A CBS News/New York Times poll from early 2011 found just 9 percent of Americans approved of Congress. (Yes, "approval" is different than "confidence," but both signal bad news for lawmakers.)

Poor opinions of lawmakers are also the cause of rare bipartisan agreement, according to Gallup. Historically, members of either major political party express greater confidence in the legislative branch when their party controls both chambers. Republicans favored the place slightly more than Democrats when the GOP controlled the House and Senate in the early 2000s, for example, while Democrats started to favor the place more when they recaptured control in 2007.

But those days are gone.

With party control evenly split, just 12 percent of Democrats, 11 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of political independents hold confidence in Congress -- a near tie.

Can Congress turn things around in the coming months by passing an immigration bill and working with the White House to strike a budget deal? Perhaps. But these numbers prove again how far Congress needs to climb in order to regain a majority of Americans' trust.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost