In what was the icing on Congress’ cake of partisan gridlock, the 12-member, debt-reduction “supercommittee” announced Monday that it failed to reach a deal to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit in 10 years.
But this super fail might come as no surprise to the more than three-fourths of Americans who already disapprove of the job Congress is doing. With a lowest-in-history 9 percent approval rating, it’s hard to find anything these days that Americans are less supportive of than the U.S. Congress.
“It’s about as low as it gets,” said David Brady, a political science professor at Stanford University. “It’s the lowest I’ve ever seen it and I’ve been studying Congress for 45 years.”
In the nearly half a century-long history of Gallup polling, the only people or institutions that have been more unpopular than the current Congress are Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Mark Fuhrman, a detective in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, said Gallup’s Editor in Chief Frank Newport.
“I think it is very significant that, in general, approval is so low for Congress,” Newport said. “It’s very, very important because it’s the fundamental nature of our democratic system and when people lose faith in the system, that’s not good at all.”
In polls for the past few months, the public had a higher opinion of everything from celebrity heiress Paris Hilton to going to war with Iran than it did of Congress.
Actor Charlie Sheen was more than twice as popular as Congress in an August Ipsos poll. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan received three times as much support as Congress in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll.
Even amid what was arguably the greatest presidential scandal in history, former President Nixon had more support than the current Congress with 24 percent of the public giving him the thumbs up at the height of the Watergate scandal.
The banking industry also weathered scandal better than this Congress. In the midst of the 2008 banking crisis, 22 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said they were still confident in U.S. banks.
According to the latest Gallup poll, President Obama’s approval rating is more than four times that of the legislature and America’s least popular governor, Florida’s Rick Scott, has almost triple as much support, according to a May Quinnipiac poll.
Brady said congressional approval generally ranks lower than that of the president or individual lawmakers because Congress is an institution and therefore doesn’t have a “personality” like an individual does.
“If I’m a Republican, I can look at Congress and think of Nancy Pelosi or if I’m a Democrat, I can think of Eric Cantor,” Brady said. “You can pick and chose who you don’t like and transfer it onto Congress.”
Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., took to the Senate floor last week to point out that the notion United States’ turning communist and the IRS both had more support than Congress, the Washington Post first reported.
“We are now at 9 percent,” he said in his floor speech. “We’re almost at the margin of error for zero.”
But even though nine out of 10 voters do not support Congress, Brady said that wave of frustration is unlikely to translate into Americans’ voting their congressman out of office. Most incumbent lawmakers will have to work “extra hard” to win re-election, he said, but if history is any indication, more than 90 percent will win their seat back in 2012.
“What it means is it changes the game,” Brady said. “It could be that that low rating might mean there are 20 or 25 incumbents that don’t get re-elected or who resign, which is not insignificant, especially if you are one of the 25 that looses.”
But as the most recent rumors of congressional failure solidify, even a “supercommittee meltdown” might not drive the few dwindling supporters away from Congress.
“I’m not sure that it can go much lower,” Newport said. “Americans are already so discouraged about Congress that this will serve as another reinforcement of what they already believe.”