The Year of Polling Terribly

Washington’s leaders have broken records in 2013, and not in a good way.

National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Nov. 19, 2013, 10:19 a.m.

This year, no one in Wash­ing­ton is do­ing a good job.

That’s ac­cord­ing to fa­vor­ab­il­ity polls, which in the last few months have stead­ily churned out re­cord low after re­cord low of the Amer­ic­an pub­lic’s con­fid­ence in its lead­ers.

An ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey re­leased Tues­day found that 55 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of the job Pres­id­ent Obama is do­ing, a ca­reer high since 2009. In a Quin­nipi­ac Un­vi­ersity poll last week, Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing sank to 39 per­cent, down from 45 per­cent at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber. That rat­ing is the low­est in any na­tion­al Quin­nipi­ac poll for Obama since he entered the White House. And, for the first time in the group’s polling his­tory, 52 per­cent of voters don’t think that the pres­id­ent is hon­est and trust­worthy. The latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll put Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing even lower on Tues­day, at 38 per­cent.

Pew Re­search and NBC News/Wall Street Journ­al polls also re­cently re­gistered re­cord-low rat­ings for Obama. The former found that 65 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of Obama’s hand­ling of the eco­nomy, and 59 per­cent are dis­sat­is­fied with his work on health care policy, both all-time lows in his pres­id­ency. The lat­ter at­trib­uted its re­cord-low ap­prov­al rat­ing, at 42 per­cent, in its own his­tory to “the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of set­backs since the sum­mer,” in­clud­ing far-reach­ing Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency sur­veil­lance, de­bate over a U.S. mil­it­ary strike in Syr­ia, the gov­ern­ment shut­down, and most re­cently the botched im­ple­ment­a­tion of the health care web­site.

Pres­id­en­tial rat­ings have been worse, however, and Obama’s re­cord-low rat­ings are spe­cif­ic to his time in of­fice. Harry Tru­man holds the title of low­est ap­prov­al rat­ing in Amer­ic­an his­tory, with 22 per­cent, re­gistered in 1952. More re­cently, George W. Bush dipped to 25 per­cent in 2008.

Con­gress, on the oth­er hand, is a dif­fer­ent story. Amer­ic­ans’ ap­prov­al of the way Con­gress is do­ing its job dropped to 9 per­cent last week, the low­est in Gal­lup’s 39-year his­tory of ask­ing the ques­tion. The gen­er­al pub­lic’s dis­like sees no party lines, with ap­prov­al rat­ings dis­mal across the board: 10 per­cent for Demo­crats, 9 per­cent for Re­pub­lic­ans, and 8 per­cent for in­de­pend­ents.

An Oc­to­ber Gal­lup Poll found the Re­pub­lic­an Party in gen­er­al is viewed fa­vor­ably by 28 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans, the low­est meas­ured for either party since the re­search com­pany began ask­ing the ques­tion in 1992. The Demo­crat­ic Party fared bet­ter with 43 per­cent, but that num­ber has been shrink­ing all year.

An­oth­er Oc­to­ber poll from Gal­lup found that just 18 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say they are sat­is­fied with the way the coun­try is be­ing gov­erned, down from Septem­ber’s 32 per­cent, re­cor­ded be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut­down. The num­ber is the low­est the polling agency has seen since it first star­ted ask­ing cit­izens the ques­tion in 1971.

Yet an­oth­er poll last month found that 33 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say the coun­try’s biggest prob­lem right now gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion, the highest such per­cent­age in Gal­lup’s his­tory. “Amer­ic­ans simply feel the gov­ern­ment’s not work­ing well at all,” says Frank New­port, Gal­lup’s ed­it­or-in-chief.

If trends hold, Wash­ing­ton is set to close out the year with some of the low­est ap­prov­al rat­ings in polling his­tory. The driv­ing force be­hind the dis­mal num­bers of 2013, says Car­roll Do­herty, as­so­ci­ate dir­ect­or at the Pew Re­search Cen­ter for the People and the Press, is likely a polit­ic­al “per­fect storm.”

“You have a dis­mal eco­nomy, you have par­tis­an grid­lock, and you have a pres­id­ent whose sig­na­ture ini­ti­at­ive is now get­ting a pretty prob­lem­at­ic rol­lout,” Do­herty says. People shouldn’t un­der­es­tim­ate the ef­fect of con­gres­sion­al grid­lock on Amer­ic­an per­cep­tion of the gov­ern­ment, he adds. “The pub­lic looks at this and just kind of col­lect­ively throws up their hands.”

It isn’t clear what this year’s neg­at­ive num­bers mean for con­gres­sion­al in­cum­bents in 2014. But they sug­gest that the pub­lic wants its elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives to think hard about their New Year’s res­ol­u­tions.

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