Informed Americans Rate Both Parties in Congress Worse

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The FINANCIAL — Americans who are knowledgeable about Congress — based on a five-question quiz — have more negative views of the Republicans and Democrats in Congress compared with those who are less knowledgeable. About half of Americans who answer at least two of the five quiz questions correctly say Republicans and Democrats are doing a “poor” or “bad” job. Fewer than three in 10 Americans who answer none of the questions correctly rate these groups this negatively.

The knowledge scale is based on Americans’ awareness of five basic facts about Congress, its operations and its leadership. These results come from a special Gallup study conducted in June, which focused on understanding how Americans’ ratings of Congress relate to their political knowledge and attention to news media.

This study found that Americans’ views of the U.S. Congress in general are strongly related to their knowledge about Congress, with those who know more about Congress rating the institution overall more negatively. Thus, the finding that ratings of the two parties in Congress are more negative among those who are more knowledgeable fits with this larger pattern.

Regardless of their knowledge levels, Americans’ ratings of the major parties in Congress are not much different than their ratings of Congress as a whole.

Sixteen percent of Americans rate the job Republicans are doing as “excellent” or “good,” and 48% rate it as poor or bad. Democrats in Congress — currently in the minority of both chambers, severely curtailing their ability to shape the legislative agenda — are rated slightly better, but still receive a negative review: 19% rate their job performance as excellent or good, versus 41% rating it as poor or bad.

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As would be expected, rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats rate their own party’s job performance better than they rate the opposing party’s. But Republicans are a bit more critical of Republicans in Congress (23% say they are doing a poor or bad job) than Democrats are of Democrats in Congress (19% say they are doing a poor or bad job).

Still, neither intraparty rating is overly positive, with fewer than three in 10 Republicans (28%) and a third of Democrats (34%) saying their own party is doing an excellent or good job.

Bottom Line

The fundamental finding is that Americans who know the most about how Congress operates are not only the most negative about Congress in general, but also about the Republicans and Democrats in Congress specifically. This reinforces the general conclusion that criticisms of Congress — and the partisan leaders in Congress — are based on a realistic assessment of what these entities are doing rather than a lack of awareness of or interest in what they are doing.

Overall, those with a party preference naturally view their own party’s congressional delegation more positively than the other party’s, but even those ratings are not overly positive. To some degree, it suggests that Americans’ views of the two parties are heavily influenced by their general antipathy toward Congress, not just their feelings toward a particular party.


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