In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman, a Hungarian architecture professor invented the Rubik's Cube, and the first Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned. 1974 is also the year that Gallup first asked Americans whether they approved or disapproved of the job Congress was doing. It has been asking that question in one form or another ever since. After the 2010 midterms when the lower chamber changed hands, Congress watching has almost become a sporting event with numbers like scores. The House is where the action is. The score this month: 17 percent and falling.
After scientifically analyzing thirty years’ worth of collected public opinion data, what Gallup found was that Congress never averaged above a 42 percent job approval rating for any calendar year prior to 1999 nor averaged below a 42 percent afterwards. But that started to change after 2004. Gallup noted of congress’s job approval rating, “. . . that record is being tested this year as the public grows more negative toward the direction of the country in general and President George W. Bush in particular with a sluggish economy and an ongoing war in Iraq.”
Gallup began its annual updating of congressional approval in the 1991-1992 term of the 102nd Congress. “Approval of subsequent Congresses has varied mostly from the low 20s to the mid-40s, although it reached 55 percent for the 107th Congress' 2001-2002 term.” It should be noted that following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress scored a record 84 percent job approval rating in October 2001.
The sport of congress watching advanced as more polls began to assess public opinion and apply ratings of their own, kind of like inverse handicapping. The CBS poll began asking the congress approval question in 1977. In May of 2005 CBS reported, “Today a majority of Americans, 55 percent, disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job.” CBS continued, “Approval ratings for Congress have historically been low, rarely moving above the 50 percent mark since this poll began asking the question,” and concurred with Gallup. “However, recent Congressional ratings are at some of their lowest points since the mid-nineties,” the network said.