The Price of Politics - Low esteem for both President and Congress

November 06, 2013, 2:35 PM GMT+0

The government shutdown hurt the national reputation of both President Obama and Congress, with Obama's approval just above the all time low.

The politics of the last few weeks -- a partial government shutdown, new revelations about American spying operations, and the health care website’s problem-plagued launch have damaged public assessments of both the President and the Congress, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. Both the President and Congressional job approvals are near their lowest ratings ever. Congressional Republicans are even more damaged than Congressional Democrats.

The President’s approval rating is just 38% in the poll, conducted over the weekend. He is only two points above his all-time low reached in September, 2011. 53% disapprove.

Last week, 40% approved. The President now receives negative assessments from nearly one in four members of his own party. Last week, 18% of Democrats disapproved of his performance; this week, 24% do, a six-point increase.

The President receives some negative assessments on other measures as well. 43% of the public calls him “arrogant,” and only 22% say he is not. Just 19% say he is “effective,” while 36% say he is not. A majority believes he says mostly what he thinks people want to hear, and not what he really believes (38% think the latter).

Just 50% say they like the President as a person, a percentage that is down from the more than 60% who said so earlier this year. And when asked their overall opinion of the President, not how he has performed in the job, 51% now have a negative opinion. Just 40% are favorable, a drop of seven points in the last week.

More than half believe the shutdown diminished the national reputation of the President; nearly half say it diminished their own opinion of him.

But if the shutdown and other recent events have hurt public opinion of the President, they have been devastating when it comes to opinions about Congress. The Congressional approval rate in this week’s poll is just 7%, matching its all-time low. 71% disapprove.

Even Republicans, when they assess a branch of government that is partly controlled by their own party, are negative: 10% of Republican approve of the way Congress is handling its job, while 70% do not.

The public’s views of Congress are particularly damaging for its GOP members. 63% overall, including nearly half of Republicans, say the shutdown damaged the national reputation of the Republican Party. More than half nationwide, and more than a third of Republicans, say the shutdown damaged their own opinion of the Republican Party.

Those who identify as part of the Tea Party are less likely to think the shutdown damaged the GOP. Tea Party identifiers – whatever their partisan orientation – are nine points more likely than Republicans overall to say the shutdown actually helped the national reputation of the GOP; by two to one, they say the shutdown improved their personal image of the GOP. Republicans are much more closely divided on how their own opinion of their party may have been affected by the shutdown.

As for the Democratic Party, less than half the public says its national reputation or the respondent’s own opinion have been hurt by the shutdown.

In fact, only one in five Americans have a favorable opinion of Republicans in Congress overall; nearly twice as many have favorable views of Democrats in Congress. Of course, that still means that a majority have unfavorable view of the Democrats, but far more dislike Congressional Republicans.

And while Democrats overwhelmingly have favorable views of their party’s Congressional representatives (79% are favorable, 15% are unfavorable), Republicans are more closely divided when it comes to their own party’s Congressmen. 58% of Republicans are favorable, while 31% are not.

There is a similar sort of party divide when it comes to the GOP Congressional leadership. A third of Republicans view House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell negatively.

Overall, the Republican Congressional leadership is disliked even more than the Democratic leadership is. Of course, given the low status of Congress with the public, that doesn’t mean that Democrats are liked. In fact, just about half the country views Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unfavorably, though Pelosi, who had been among the most castigated House members when she was Speaker, looks better today. Americans are more likely to see her favorably than to see Boehner that way.

Looking ahead to the 2014 midterm elections, registered voters today prefer the Democrats by nine-points, with one in five voters undecided, and one in 20 admitting they would not vote. A generic Democrat also leads a generic Republican by eight points as voters look ahead to 2016, but even more voters are unsure today. That election is still three years away!

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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