In his column today in The Washington Post, David Broder laments the sunken state of Capitol Hill. Despite the passage of legislation of substantial importance, recent polling puts public approval of Congress below 20 percent: “the prestige of the legislative branch has sunk to a historic low,” Broder writes. And this not two years after a presidential election in which the serious contenders all had Senate pedigrees: “In 2008, no credential worked better for the ultimate position in national leadership than being a member of Congress.”
There’s no denying that Congress’s ratings stink, or even that they’re quite a bit worse than they were a year ago (when a short-lived surge, fueled by Democrats excited about the turnover in D.C., brought approval ratings almost into the high 30s). Still, it’s misleading to suggest that this is an especially recent turn of events. Consider these headlines from Gallup in 2008, during the very campaign in which a seat on the Hill was supposedly a prerequisite for political success:
What were some other low points for approval of Congress since Gallup began asking the question in 1974? The late ’70s and the early ’90s. Here’s their graph of the data over time:
Looking at the trend, it’s almost as if the economy might have something to do with people’s perceptions of government. And also as if (with one-not-very-hard-to-explain exception) Congress is in general just not very popular.