The Year of Polling Terribly

Marina Koren

This year, no one in Washington is doing a good job.

That's according to favorability polls, which in the last few months have steadily churned out record low after record low of the American public's confidence in its leaders.

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An ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday found that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the job President Obama is doing, a career high since 2009. In a Quinnipiac Unviersity poll last week, Obama's approval rating sank to 39 percent, down from 45 percent at the beginning of October. That rating is the lowest in any national Quinnipiac poll for Obama since he entered the White House. And, for the first time in the group's polling history, 52 percent of voters don't think that the president is honest and trustworthy. The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Pollput Obama's approval rating even lower on Tuesday, at 38 percent.

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Pew Research and NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls also recently registered record-low ratings for Obama. The former found that 65 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, and 59 percent are dissatisfied with his work on health care policy, both all-time lows in his presidency. The latter attributed its record-low approval rating, at 42 percent, in its own history to "the accumulation of setbacks since the summer," including far-reaching National Security Agency surveillance, debate over a U.S. military strike in Syria, the government shutdown, and most recently the botched implementation of the health care website.

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Presidential ratings have been worse, however, and Obama's record-low ratings are specific to his time in office. Harry Truman holds the title of lowest approval rating in American history, with 22 percent, registered in 1952. More recently, George W. Bush dipped to 25 percent in 2008.

Congress, on the other hand, is a different story. Americans' approval of the way Congress is doing its job dropped to 9 percent last week, the lowest in Gallup's 39-year history of asking the question. The general public's dislike sees no party lines, with approval ratings dismal across the board: 10 percent for Democrats, 9 percent for Republicans, and 8 percent for independents.

An October Gallup Poll found the Republican Party in general is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans, the lowest measured for either party since the research company began asking the question in 1992. The Democratic Party fared better with 43 percent, but that number has been shrinking all year.

Another October poll from Gallup found that just 18 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way the country is being governed, down from September's 32 percent, recorded before the government shutdown. The number is the lowest the polling agency has seen since it first started asking citizens the question in 1971.

Yet another poll last month found that 33 percent of Americans say the country's biggest problem right now government dysfunction, the highest such percentage in Gallup's history. "Americans simply feel the government's not working well at all," says Frank Newport, Gallup's editor-in-chief.

If trends hold, Washington is set to close out the year with some of the lowest approval ratings in polling history. The driving force behind the dismal numbers of 2013, says Carroll Doherty, associate director at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, is likely a political "perfect storm."

"You have a dismal economy, you have partisan gridlock, and you have a president whose signature initiative is now getting a pretty problematic rollout," Doherty says. People shouldn't underestimate the effect of congressional gridlock on American perception of the government, he adds. "The public looks at this and just kind of collectively throws up their hands."

It isn't clear what this year's negative numbers mean for congressional incumbents in 2014. But they suggest that the public wants its elected representatives to think hard about their New Year's resolutions.

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