How low can you go? Chubby Checker once asked that of dancers, but Gallup's new poll must have Congress wondering the same thing. They have reached the all-time nadir of approval in the latest polling, dropping to the same level as when Congress started bouncing personal checks after years of public deficit spending:
A new Gallup Poll finds Congress' approval rating the lowest it has been since Gallup first tracked public opinion of Congress with this measure in 1974. Just 18% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76% disapprove, according to the August 13-16, 2007, Gallup Poll.
That 18% job approval rating matches the low recorded in March 1992, when a check-bouncing scandal was one of several scandals besetting Congress, leading many states to pass term limits measures for U.S. representatives (which the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional). Congress had a similarly low 19% approval rating during the energy crisis in the summer of 1979.
Americans' evaluations of the job Congress is doing are usually not that positive -- the vast majority of historical approval ratings have been below 50%. The high point was 84% approval one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Americans rallied behind the federal government. Since then, Congress' approval ratings have generally exhibited the same downward trajectory seen in those for President George W. Bush. Currently, 32% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a far cry from the record-high 90% he received in September 2001. Bush's current job approval rating is just three percentage points above his lowest.
How bad has it gotten? Even the normal partisan split has all but disappeared. In April, there was a 15-point difference in approval ratings between Democrats and Republicans (43-28). Now the difference has been reduced to the margin of error (21-17), with independents at the average 18%.
Disapproval rates have skyrocketed to 76%. Even in 2006, with Republicans beset by scandal, disapproval only got as high as 71%, and then only twice. It reached 74% after the election, in December, when the GOP decided to sit on its hands in their final stanza on budget matters. Throughout most of the Republican years of control, however, Congress enjoyed much higher approval ratings and much lower disapproval ratings, even during the impeachment process in 1997.
Democrats have created a monster for themselves, and they seem unable to free themselves from their rut. They have accomplished almost nothing of their agenda, save a minimum-wage hike. They have punted on Iraq, surrendered on FISA and the TSP, and have allowed themselves to get outmanuevered on immigration. They have spent hundreds of hours on investigations to no real benefit while legislation languishes. Their so-called ethics reforms have done nothing but allow lobbyists even more ways to influence Congress, and earmarks are murkier than ever.
It's the Limbo Congress. How low can they go? Just wait. They have over a year left to plumb the depths.