Approval of Congress is at a new low in 40 years of polling, Americans’ approval of their own representative in Washington is underwater for the first time and a record number of registered voters are inclined to look for someone new in 2014 – all signs of a powerful, palpable public antipathy following the budget spat that shut down much of the government for 16 days.
Among other results in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, a near-record 78 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works, with downright anger at a new high in polls since 1992. Criticism over the shutdown is focused on the Republicans, now at their greatest unpopularity in data since 1984. But the Democrats are damaged too.
These and other results indicate severe self-inflicted wounds to Congress as a result of its budget brinksmanship – with Barack Obama, though hardly in stellar shape, largely escaping unscathed. His virtually dead-even job approval rating, 48-49 percent, is essentially the same now as it was a month ago, before the fur – and the furlough notices – flew.
Compare that to Congress: A mere 12 percent approve of its job performance, while 85 percent disapprove, its worst rating in ABC/Post polls since 1989 and Gallup polls before then dating to 1974. Seven in 10 disapprove “strongly” in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, up 17 percentage points just since July – including 21- and 18-point jumps in strong disapproval in two centrist groups, independents and moderates.
It’s long been noted that Americans disapprove of Congress as an institution far more than they disapprove of their own representative. That’s still the case – but less so. Just 43 percent in this survey approve even of their own Congress member, while 47 percent disapprove – record low approval and the first underwater result to this question in ABC/Post polls back 24 years.
Another result may deepen the chill for current office-holders: Only 25 percent of registered voters now say they’re inclined to re-elect their representative in Congress; 66 percent are inclined to look around for someone else – the highest level of anti-incumbency in ABC/Post polls since 1989.
The Republicans may be at particular risk; just 32 percent of Americans express a favorable view of the party, vs. 63 percent unfavorable – their worst rating, as noted, in at least 29 years. The Democrats, by contrast, manage about an even split in this basic measure of popularity.
That said, anti-incumbency is not taking a strong partisan direction. Registered voters split 48-40 percent between the Democrat and the Republican in their House district, unchanged from May and a fairly typical result. It was much better for the Democrats leading into the 2006 midterms and much better for the Republicans leading into 2010.
Open questions include whether this level of anti-incumbency – if it lingers for a full year – gains a more partisan cast, as well as how it plays out not only in the midterm general election, but in the primaries as well. Currently, the inclination to find someone new to support for Congress next year peaks among some groups, but with no clear direction – independents (74 percent of whom express anti-incumbent sentiment), less-educated whites (73 percent), political moderates (72 percent); those in Mitt-Romney supporting red states (72 percent) and those personally inconvenienced by the partial shutdown (72 percent).
DISAFFECTION – One clear element of political attitudes today is the extent of disaffection with government in the shutdown fallout. Notably, for example, the nearly eight in 10 Americans who are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works includes 32 percent who say they’re angry about it.
That’s a 21-year record in anger directed at the government, albeit by a single point from its level in November 2011. The difference is that the previous high came during a period of especially deep economic discontent. Ratings of the economy’s condition, while not at all good, are 14 points better now than they were two years ago – underscoring the more self-inflicted nature of current anger at government.
Notably, anger at the government is lower among Democrats (22 percent) than it is among Republicans or independents (40 and 36 percent, respectively), reflecting both the fact that a Democrat runs it, and that his party largely prevailed in the budget dispute. Perhaps not surprisingly, anger at the government peaks, at a remarkable 56 percent, among the one in 10 Americans who describe themselves as strong supporters of the Tea Party political movement.
In similar readings, all vastly negative:
• Seventy-five percent of all Americans are dissatisfied with the way the political system is working. More, 87 percent, call the shutdown a sign of broader problems in the political process, including 42 percent overall who say these problems amount to a crisis.
• Eighty-one percent disapprove of the shutdown – 71 percent, “strongly.” Anywhere from 80 to 86 percent say it damaged the U.S. economy, the United States’ image in the world and the morale of federal employees. Twenty-two percent were personally inconvenienced, 10 points more than said so in the shutdowns of 1995-96.
• Seventy-two percent are not confident that Obama and the Republicans will avoid another budget crisis when the agreement to end this one runs out this winter.
• Sixty-eight percent say the country’s headed seriously off on the wrong track, up 8 points since summer. That’s an unusually negative score in a period of economic growth, however sluggish.
BLAME – While there’s criticism for all, the Republicans in Congress, and their party, are taking the brunt of the public’s ire. Seventy-seven percent disapprove of the GOP’s handling of the budget dispute, a new high. That rose by 14 points from the start to the end of the shutdown, vs. Obama’s +4 (to 54 percent disapproval) and the Democrats’ +5 (to 61 percent, itself roundly negative).
Disapproval of the GOP’s work on the shutdown advanced most sharply among two groups: It rose by 20 points among Republicans themselves; 58 percent in this survey disapprove of how their own party’s representatives in Congress handled the issue. And it rose by 24 points, to 79 percent, among a generally more Democratic-oriented group, adults under age 30.
Measured head-to-head, the public blames the Republicans in Congress for the shutdown over Obama by 53-29 percent – similar to the result measuring then-President Bill Clinton vs. the Republicans in January 1996, after their own shutdown battle. Clinton went on to win re-election the next November, but the Republicans held control of Congress, suggesting it’d be a mistake to take current blame directed against the GOP as determinative of November 2014 outcomes.
That said, the criticism is vast. Americans by 77-20 percent, for example, think the Republicans in Congress are more interested in doing what’s best for themselves politically than what’s best for the country. That compares with an only somewhat-less-awful 63-34 percent for the Democrats in Congress. Again it’s much better for Obama (if not great), 46-52 percent.
FAVES – The Republicans, as noted, are underwater in overall favorability, 32-63 percent, nearly a precise reversal from their most recent height of popularity 11 years ago. Their favorability rating once was 1 point lower, in late 1998, but their unfavorable score is 6 points higher than its previous peak in data back to 1984.
Unfavorable views of the Republican Party are up 10 points from the last ABC/Post measure in September 2012, particularly so among very conservatives (up 21 points), college graduates (19 points), political independents (17 points) and, in a bit of self-flagellation, up 15 points among Republicans themselves.
In a related result, 26 percent see the Tea Party favorably, a new low, down from its peak of 41 percent in March 2010. In another measure, 36 percent describe themselves as Tea Party supporters – another low.
At 46-49 percent favorable-unfavorable, the Democratic Party is much less poorly rated than the Republicans – but that’s their own worst rating (lowest favorable and highest unfavorable alike) since 1984, and numerically under water for the first time.
Obama, for his part, is showing much less damage, but is hardly in great shape. His job approval rating, as noted, is 48-49 percent, not much changed from 47-47 percent in September, with “strong” disapproval, 39 percent, tying its highest since October 2011. He’s 50-48 percent on favorability. And the president’s 54 percent disapproval on the economy is its highest in more than a year.
BUDGET AHEAD – Support for the agreement that ended the shutdown is tepid, with approval at 51-41 percent, likely reflecting the kick-the-can approach and broad skepticism that yet another showdown can be avoided. Indeed, among those who express confidence that Obama and the Republicans can avoid another budget crisis, 61 percent approve of the current agreement; that falls to 47 percent of those who lack that confidence.
In terms of general preferences, Obama leads the GOP by 11 points in trust to find the right balance between cuts and spending – a weak lead, perhaps, given the Republicans’ general unpopularity. However, Americans by a broader 59-37 percent prefer a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, not just spending cuts, in an agreement to trim the deficit.
The public by 54-40 percent also prefers no linkage between cutting the deficit and raising the debt limit, again favoring Obama’s position, but again by less of a margin than the GOP’s current unpopularity might imply. That suggests their basic battles – and the fallout – may well continue, to the public’s considerable chagrin.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 17-20, 2013, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-40 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.