How Americans see Congress: bad at its job, ineffective, and led by a divided Democratic Party

October 08, 2021, 3:13 PM UTC

As Congress grapples with major business — an infrastructure bill, the debt ceiling, and other spending measures — its image with Americans remains bleak. 

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, conducted days before Thursday’s debt-ceiling deal, far more Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job than approve. Even among Democratic respondents, whose party controls both the House and Senate, disapproval is more common than approval. Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of how Congress is handling its job. So do Independents. The share of Republicans and Independents who disapprove of Congress has grown from early this summer, driving a small increase in overall disapproval. 

Americans’ usual view is that Congress is unusually unaccomplished. Typically far more say Congress is accomplishing less than usual than say it is accomplishing more than usual. That’s the case now: Only 9% of Americans and 19% of Democrats believe Congress is getting more done than usual.

The poll comes as Congress negotiates an infrastructure bill, whose passage could potentially improve its image. By 48% to 31%, Americans support passing the bill. Republicans oppose the infrastructure bill by 59% to 25%, even though it has backing from some Republican lawmakers and was described in the question as “bipartisan.” 

The bill has, in part, been held up by disagreements among moderate Democrats and the more left-leaning part of the party. Americans see a related, longstanding problem with the Democratic Party. Far more claim Democrats are more divided than usual than believe they are more united than usual. More Democrats, too, see their party as more divided than usual than see it as more united than usual. 

Fewer see that sort of division in the Republican Party today relative to its usual state. In other polls in recent years, the finding has been the same: Americans see the Democratic Party as more divided than the Republican Party.

Internal party disunity can be seen in how Americans react to some individual members of Congress – including their own party’s leaders. In this week’s poll, Republicans are more likely to be unfavorable than favorable towards Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Meanwhile, McConnell’s counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, does better among Republicans, though they are nearly evenly divided in their assessment of him. The Democratic Congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are seen positively by an overwhelming majority of Democrats. 

Democrats view progressive members of Congress more favorably than their party’s moderate members. Democrats hold positive assessments of progressive Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, known collectively as the Squad. A majority of Democrats have unfavorable opinions of the two moderate Democratic Senators — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — who have resisted the current projected $3.5 trillion cost of the Democratic budget bill, while Republicans are closely divided on both of them.

Republican member of Congress Liz Cheney is particularly disliked by members of her own party. Since her vote in favor of the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, Cheney has lost her party leadership position. Democrats view her favorably.

Congress and Bills

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between October 3 - 5, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.1% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty