The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbers

Another dismal congressional job approval number (pdf) and, like clockwork, more handwringing over congress (read: Democrats) being less popular than Bush.

The Democratic-controlled Congress and President Bush seem locked in a perverse competition for public unfavorability, according to a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll.

The survey shows Bush's approval ratings at 35 percent, and Congress' even lower, 25 percent. Only 27 percent of those polled said the country is headed in the right direction, and 39 percent said they support the Iraq war, with 58 percent opposed.

While Bush's favorability ratings have remained relatively unchanged for months, Congress' support declined markedly between May and July, a dip confirmed in a poll of 1,003 people taken last week.

The subtext of the narrative the Republicans and the media love to spin with this juxtaposition was summed up by concern troll David Broder, who confidently announced on Meet The Press in June:

I think [the Democrats] will suffer the same consequences that the Republicans suffered a year ago. People are fed up with seeing Washington bickering, fighting, in-fighting and never dealing with the issue.

Now, I'm not going to say I'm thrilled with these numbers, nor am I going to pretend they're entirely undeserved. It's actually quite depressing that our majority couldn't be more effective at curbing this president's radical agenda. But am I worried this mass unfavorability is going to cause Democrats to lose the majority? Hardly. On the contrary, it looks like it could even help them to build on it.

From an Aug. 3 Democracy Corps strategy memo (pdf) based on polling from the 70 most competitive Congressional districts:

The gridlock and partisan battles in Washington are hurting the Republicans, with no evidence here of lost prospective support for Democrats. Republicans own the mess in Washington as voters in both Democratic and Republican-held districts blame the President and Republicans more than the Democrats for the gridlock in Washington - by 19 and 13 points respectively. And this has electoral consequences. By 52 to 38 percent, voters in these battleground districts say the gridlock in Washington makes them want to see more Democrats elected to the Congress. That same dynamic is at work even in the Republican-held seats.

In other words, people get that the Democratic congress they voted for in 2006 was conditional on a Democratic president and/or a larger majority and 2008's their chance to finish the job. I'm not saying this to let ineffective members off the hook. In fact, this finding is actually an argument for Democrats in congress to be MORE combative, especially when it comes to fighting for Democratic values, which the polling suggests have majority support even in swing districts. The president and Republicans in congress are going to be intransigent anyway; they're going to paint Democrats as weak on terror and big spending liberals anyway; they're counting on Democrats not realizing there's an electoral upside to actually taking them on aggressively rather than cowering for fear of being accused of partisan bickering.

Tags: ap/ipsos poll, Approval, Congress, George Bush (all tags)

Comments

11 Comments

Re: The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbe

When they do these polls on Congressional popularity they ought to break them down into the popularity of Congressional Democrats vs. the popularity of Congressional Republicans.  It is absurd to compare the overall popularity of a Congress that contains both Democrats and Republicans with the popularity of a Republican President.  

by msstaley 2007-08-15 04:47PM | 0 recs
Re: The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbe

I saw a poll about a month ago that divided up the numbers, I remember that the Dems approval rate was 13 points higher than the Reps.  It was something like 36% for the Dems and around 23% for the Reps.  

by Jason B 2007-08-15 04:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbe

I also saw that one and those are very very rare.  It reminds me of last year when news organizations would report numbers showing that voters love their incumbents and weren't going to turn out enough of them to give Democrats control of the House.  Of course, they failed to separate Rs and Ds which inflated numbers for those unpopular Republican incumbents given that there were many Democratic incumbents who were getting 80%+ in the polling.

by msstaley 2007-08-15 07:32PM | 0 recs
Upside of Low Congressional Approval Nos

But am I worried this mass unfavorability is going to cause Democrats to lose the majority? Hardly. On the contrary, it looks like it could even help them to build on it.
 So the good news is that even though they suck, they won't lose.  That is little consolation.

by dkmich 2007-08-15 05:25PM | 0 recs
Broder's such a hack


  Nowhere in his supercilious concerns over "partisan bickering" does he utter a word about the Republicans' perpetual filibustering.

 What a sad, sorry excuse for a political analyst. Too bad we didn't have blogs in 1960 -- we could have smothered his career in the crib.

by Master Jack 2007-08-15 05:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Broder's such a hack

Isn't it time for Broder to pack it in? When the hell is he going to retire, anyway? He is so tiresome ... sooooooo tiresome.

by Oregonian 2007-08-15 06:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The Upside of Low Congressional Approval Numbe

I think that the returning Congress will have a new edge to it.

by DoIT 2007-08-15 05:29PM | 0 recs
Yes, But...

Broder:

I think [the Democrats] will suffer the same consequences that the Republicans suffered a year ago. People are fed up with seeing Washington bickering, fighting, in-fighting and never dealing with the issue.

He said the same thing in 1931, so I'm not really worried.

by Paul Rosenberg 2007-08-15 05:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, But...

[quote]He said the same thing in 1931, so I'm not really worried.[/quote]Now that's funny.

by InigoMontoya 2007-08-16 06:05AM | 0 recs
If we had a Democratic President

and Congressional approval is low, then I would be very worried.  When Congressional approval ratings are low and the other party controls the White House, it is usually the party that holds the White House that suffers.  When Congressional approval ratings are low and the same party controls the White House, there are usually big electoral problems for that party in the next election.

Examples

1976: when Democrats had Congress but a Republican was in the White House.  Approval ratings for Congress remained in the 20%-28% range for most of the year, but Democrats actually gained a seat in the House in 1976 and stayed even in the Senate.

1982:  Democrats had a majority in the House and Republicans controlled the Senate.  Congressional approval rating was around 29% before the election, yet Democrats picked up 27 seats in the House and Republicans picked up a seat in the Senate.

1990: Democrats had comfortable majorities in both Houses of Congress.  Congressional approval was at 23% before the election, yet Democrats picked up eight seats in the House and one in the Senate.  

1992:  Democrats had comfortable majorities in both Houses.  Congressional approval was at 12% at one point in the year.  Democrats only lost ten seats in the House(entirely due to unfavorable redistricting in Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, and Florida) and held even in the Senate.

1996:  Republicans had won control of Congress by modest margins in 1994.  After the budget shutdown in 1995, the Republican Congress had approval ratings ranging from a low of 16% in May of 1996 to around 33% in the fall.  Republicans only lost eight seats in the House and picked up two in the Senate.  

All of these elections occured when government was divided and voters really did not neccessarily blame either party for the nations problems.

However in years like 1978, 1980, 1994, and 2006 when one party controlled all of government and approval ratings were low, that party lost several seats.

By using history as an example, after averaging all of these election results together, Democrats should pick up about four House seats and one Senate seat in 2008.

by Toddwell 2007-08-15 05:43PM | 0 recs
The Raised Expectations from our Celebrations

We did so well in the last election, and were so anxious to savor our victories (it did feel soooo good didn't it), that we may have caused raised expectations in the general population.

Fact is, we really don't have control of Congress. We have a pretty good majority in the House, but in practice, the blue dogs (who in most districts were the only ones who could get elected during the dark days) can't really be counted on to help us forge major changes.

While we like to think we do, we don't have a majority in the Senate, and the gains we've made are often through moderate Democrats like Webb or McCaskill.

by PBCliberal 2007-08-15 10:28PM | 0 recs

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