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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Worst Numbers Moving Up

Note: this item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on February 17, 2009
At pretty much any point during the last four or five years, you could count on two public opinion survey measurements looking really, really bad: approval ratings of Congress, and assessments of the direction of the country.
So it’s interesting to note that both these numbers seem to be gradually moving up.
According to a new Gallup survey, Congress’ job approval rating jumped from 19% a month ago to 31% from February 9-12, or about the time that Congress was finalizing the economic stimulus package. As Gallup notes:

Gallup has been measuring public approval of Congress on a monthly basis since January 2001. During that time, there have been only two month-to-month increases larger than the 12-point jump observed this month.
The largest single-month increase was a 42-point rally in congressional support after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, from 42% in a Sept. 7-10, 2001, poll to 84% in mid-October 2001. Gallup found similar increases in ratings of other government institutions around that time.
The next-largest jump of 14 points occurred after Democrats took party control of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate in early 2007.

And if the 31% approval rating for Congress sounds pretty low, check this out:

In general, Congress’ approval ratings tend to be low. In fact, the current 31% score is very near the historical average of 35% in Gallup Polls since 1974.

The “direction of the country” (or right track/wrong track) numbers are gradually improving as well, even though most of the economic indicators continue to deteriorate. Look at pollster.com’s chart on these numbers, and you can see “right track” sloping up and “wrong track” sloping down since October at a pretty steady pace.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s job approval rating seems relatively stable in the low 60s, depending on the poll you follow.
At some point, maybe sooner, maybe later, the Obama approval ratings and the “right track” number should begin to converge. When and where they converge will probably tell you everything you need to know about the political direction of the country in 2010 and 2012.

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