An overwhelming majority of voters are unhappy with Congress, which nearly a year into its new leadership is stuck with an approval rating of 13 percent.
The youthful Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE, who replaced the unpopular John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) in the Speaker’s office, has been relentlessly promoting his election-year agenda, dubbed “A Better Way.”
The Wisconsin Republican has also avoided many of the same fiscal crises that dogged his predecessor.
But those developments have done little to improve the way Americans think and feel about the legislative branch — and it’s little wonder why, given the tone of the presidential race.
For much of the past two years, White House hopefuls, from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Pelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill top line higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war MORE to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Bipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops MORE, have railed against the gridlocked institution — providing constant public reminders about the rampant dysfunction in Washington.
“It’s hard to raise the approval rating of Congress when both presidential candidates and the incumbent president are bashing it 24/7,” said GOP pollster Frank Luntz.
It’s probably of little consolation to Congress that Trump and Clinton are the two least popular presidential candidates in modern times.
Luntz, who advises House Republicans, said he was “surprised and disappointed” that Ryan’s tenure as Speaker didn’t improve congressional ratings.
“His willingness to cooperate with Democrats to get things done is exactly what a majority of Americans want,” Luntz continued. “But the partisanship is so poisonous that I don’t think anyone could raise congressional approval right now.”
Congress’s stagnant approval numbers pose yet another electoral challenge for Republicans, who are fighting to hold on to their fragile Senate majority and preserve their huge 30-seat advantage in the House.
“It’s no surprise that the Republican-led Congress closed out exactly where they started — plagued by obstruction and rock-bottom approval ratings,” said Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for House Democrats’ campaign arm. “The American people want a Congress that fights for progress to help hard-working families, and with Republicans in charge that doesn’t happen.”
While some in Washington believe more bipartisan cooperation would boost Congress’s approval, conservatives have argued a more confrontational approach would do the trick.
“The public was hoping for a year of action, and all we got was a year of ideas,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, told The Hill on Tuesday. “As long as we keep talking about our vision and not actually implementing our vision, the American people will continue to reject us and look elsewhere for leadership.”
An average of polls, compiled by The Huffington Post, revealed that congressional job approval has hovered between 13 and 15 percent since October 2015. That figure dropped below 10 percent after Republicans shut down the government in 2013 in a failed bid to defund ObamaCare.
The latest poll is a YouGov/Economist survey, taken from Oct. 1 to 3, that shows just 12 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 62 percent disapprove. A Public Policy Polling survey from late September puts Congress’s approval at 13 percent.
“The poll results show the public has remained frustrated,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who added that Ryan’s Better Way agenda is still relatively new and competing with a lot of noise from the presidential race.
Some recent polls have provided a few bright spots.
The Gallup poll from mid-September showed Congress’s approval numbers had hit 20 percent, up 7 percentage points from July. The last time Congress hit 20 percent in the Gallup poll was February 2015, and it’s hit that mark only three times since 2012.
Much of that increase has been fueled by a spike in congressional approval from Democrats surveyed by Gallup. While Republicans have consistently given Congress poor marks for the past year, 30 percent of Democrats now think Congress is doing a good job, up from 13 percent in June.
The reason for that increase is not entirely clear. But one explanation is that Democrats are more hopeful about Congress given the prospect of their party taking back control of the Senate and maybe even the House.
“It is possible that Democrats may believe the Senate — and possibly the House — is in play for a Democratic takeover this fall, fueling a rise in approval of the branch,” wrote Gallup managing editor Art Swift.
House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer (Ind.), a member of Ryan’s leadership team, said it makes perfect sense why more Democrats are giving Congress the thumbs up.
“Bernie Sanders, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden congratulates Trudeau for winning third term as Canadian prime minister Republicans have moral and financial reasons to oppose raising the debt ceiling MORE and Hillary Clinton have been championing government as a problem-solver all year,” he said, “so I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if Democrats and left-leaning independents felt a little better about government after all that talk.”
Back home on the campaign trail and in town halls, Messer said he still hears a lot of skepticism about Congress from constituents. But he and his GOP colleagues have been able to point to Ryan’s Better Way agenda — with ideas on national security, tax reform and poverty — whenever the complaints and insults start flying.
“That is really what our caucus’s Better Way agenda is all about: making clear what we are for and solving America’s challenges,” Messer said. “While we still have a long way to go, there’s been less dysfunction this year in Washington than in prior years.”