The Least Popular Congress Ever

Congress is not very popular. With its reputation for petty partisan bickering, Congress rarely is particularly popular. But the current Congress’ popularity has reached incredible new lows.


According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, just 12% of Americans say they approve of the way Congress handles its job. That matches the previous record low since they started regularly asking the question, set in 2008 during the height of the financial crisis. Not surprisingly, in follow-up interviews respondents identified the parties' inability to compromise as a reason for their disapproval. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans in Congress poll well, although 28% approve of the job Democrats are doing compared to just 19% who approve of the job Republicans are doing. Even each party’s own voters disapprove of its congressional caucus: 43% of Democrats disapprove of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, and fully half of Republicans disapprove of the job Republicans in Congress are doing. Only 6% of registered voters say most members of Congress have earned reelection. 

As Joshua Tucker at The Monkey Cage says, general disapproval of Congress won't necessarily translate into incumbent members of Congress getting voted out of office. As political scientist Richard Fenno famously argued, people may disapprove of Congress as a whole, but still approve of their own representative. But that, as Tucker says, is what makes the latest data really remarkable. Only 33% of survey respondents say that even their own representative deserves to be reelected. That’s another record low, lower than the number of voters who said their own representative deserved to be reelected than before the wave elections of 1994 and 2006. And as Tucker says Gallup polling confirms that our dissatisfaction with our own members of Congress has rising to new highs over the past year.

That still doesn’t necessarily mean that incumbents are all going to voted out of office next year. The way the districts are drawn still gives incumbents of both parties an enormous advantage, and voters may not find they like their other choices any better. Nevertheless, we are in uncharted territory. Congress has become more steadily more polarized. More than ever, each party has a stake in seeing the other party fail. The use of the filibuster to block legislation in the Senate has skyrocketed. The recent debt ceiling fight shows that even previously routine votes like votes to authorize the government to pay debts it has already incurred have become high stakes fights. Republican strategists have to be worried about whether they can hold on to the House. It may be that their strategy of obstructing legislation to sabotage Obama's presidency has begun to backfire. But it seems likely that both parties will find themselves in upheaval as the next election approaches. It looks like voters really want to throw the bums out this time.

Photo: Kevin McCoy

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less