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Polls Show Growing Frustration With Washington

FILE - U.S. Capitol

FILE - U.S. Capitol

Politicians in Washington are no strangers to negative public opinion polls. But a recent spate of dismal surveys suggests the political polarization and dysfunction in Washington is reaching new depths.

The numbers are mind-numbingly bad. In the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, Congress has a disapproval rate of 83 percent, an all-time high for that survey.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating is 45 percent, which matches that of George W. Bush at a similar point in his presidency.

Only 29 percent see the country on the right track at the moment, down from the 41 percent who held that view in the same poll at the end of last year.

Several other recent national surveys contain similar negative results, and experts say all of this has consequences for the president and members of Congress from both major political parties.

Charlie Cook, a political analyst with the National Journal, says the president’s weakening poll numbers could hurt Democrats in next year’s congressional mid-term elections.

“Obviously you watch the president’s approval rating because mid-term elections do typically become to a certain extent a referendum on the incumbent president and he has been dropping since mid-January about a point every three or four weeks," he said.

Despite signs the economy is growing, many Americans still have a negative overall view, especially when it comes to jobs and their future standard of living.

Obama has embarked on a speaking tour to refocus on economic issues and has not been shy about laying much of the blame for the political gridlock in Washington on Republicans.

“Wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare is not a jobs plan," the president said.

But Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, are doing plenty of finger-pointing of their own.

“We are not just over here making noise. The House Republicans are continuing to take action," said Boehner.

Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center says the president has a tough job in trying to change public perceptions about where the country is headed.

“I think he realizes that the American people are getting a little bit frightened and a little bit, I think, dismayed," he said. "By about a two to one margin, Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction and has gotten off track."

Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown says Obama has been losing steam in his recent polls as well. But Brown says Obama has shown an ability to mount a political comeback.

“His numbers are not good but it is worth mentioning that he has been here before. Much of 2009, 2010 and 2011 his job approval was in the mid 40s and he still wound up being re-elected fairly comfortably," he said. "Historically second term presidents generally have rough patches."

The president may be down in the polls but the Republican brand is even worse off at the moment, says analyst Charlie Cook.

“For Republicans to take advantage of Democratic problems they really need to get their numbers, their party favorable numbers up and the unfavorable numbers down, and that simply hasn’t happened," he said.

As bad as the public perception is at the moment, it might actually get worse when Congress returns to work in September. Lawmakers are sharply divided on funding levels for the government, on immigration reform and on a move by some Republicans to defund the president’s health care law.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.