- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

The nation’s opinion of Congress has reached a recent low, according to a poll released yesterday by Gallup that shows public approval of lawmakers dropping to 23 percent, down four points since March and now at the lowest level of the year.

Gallup has traditionally maintained that flagging ratings on Capitol Hill paralleled downward trends in White House numbers. But lawmakers may be irking the nation all on their own.

“Despite this long-term pattern, polling suggests that in recent weeks, Congress may have earned its own additional negative reviews,” Gallup analyst Lydia Saad noted.

Congressional numbers noticeably dropped in the last four weeks. While low, public approval of President Bush, however, has remained steady at around 36 percent since mid-March. The poll also found that Republican respondents still offer at least tepid support to Congress: 37 percent of the Republicans say they support the lawmakers, compared with 19 percent of independents and 13 percent of Democrats.

The survey of 1,005 adults was conducted April 10-13, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Overall, the dismal numbers are “the worst Gallup has recorded since the closing days of the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representative in 1994,” according to Ms. Saad. At that time, the favorability rating stood at 21 percent.

Things could be worse. According to Gallup archives, public approval of Congress stood at its all-time low in March 1992, at 18 percent, with June 1979 a close second at 19 percent.

There has been only one real spike since Gallup begun plumbing public opinion of lawmakers in 1974. Favorability ratings shot from less than 50 percent to more than 80 percent shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, though Congress only managed an average 57 percent approval rating over the whole year. By 2002, the average rating was 54 percent, followed by 47 percent in 2003, 42 percent in 2004 and 36 percent last year.

Both parties hope to galvanize voters for the midterm elections in November, with a close eye on the implications for the 2008 presidential race. Republicans hold 231 seats in the House, the Democrats 201 — with one Democrat-leaning independent and two vacancies. In the Senate, Republicans hold 55 seats, the Democrats 44, with one Democrat-leaning independent.

The situation has attracted oddsmakers. London-based Sportsbook, an online wagering site, gives Democrats an “outside chance” to take Congress this year, but is offering the shorter odds on Republicans keeping control.

“Odds on the Democrats regaining a majority in the House are currently plus 160, meaning a wager of $100 would result in a $160 profit. Odds on Republicans retaining the majority are minus 200, meaning that one would need to wager $200 to win a profit of $100,” Sportsbook advised.

Their odds on a Democrat majority in the Senate are plus 300, odds for a Republican majority are at minus 260.

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