Iraq War Sinks Congress' Approval Rating

Congressional approval rates tumble amid the country's sour mood stemming from the Iraq war. Democrats took office in January with a 43 percent approval rating, which has now dropped below 30 percent. The biggest drop is among Democrats. The most disaffected are independents.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

As Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, the public is in a sour mood about governmental institutions in general and Congress in particular.

NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts has more to tell us about that. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, John.

YDSTIE: So, just six months after taking control of the Congress, the Democratic majority is already suffering from public disaffection. What's going on?

ROBERTS: Well, in the Gallup, which has been measuring this for many years, among governmental institutions or institutions in general, Congress rates the lowest. Only 14 percent say they have a good deal of confidence in the Congress. That's the lowest in Gallup's history. And the approval rating is only 24 percent. And that's the lowest since the Democrats took over, down from 37 percent in February.

The biggest drop is among Democrats in Congress so their approval has gone from 43 percent to 29 percent, putting them in about the same place as Republicans in Congress. And interestingly, the group most disaffected is that all important swing group, swing voters, those independents, where only 19 percent of them approved of the job that Congress is doing.

YDSTIE: So why has this Congress, which came in with a lot of promise in voters' minds, sunk so low so fast?

ROBERTS: Well, congressional approval ratings are never particularly high. But these are particularly low. Part of it is, which you said earlier, the country is in a sour mood. Only one in four people thinks that the country is going in the right direction. And almost all of that is about Iraq. A lot of hopes that the Democratic Congress could turn around the war in Iraq, which of course is impossible to do quickly under any circumstances but also impossible to do when you have an administration of the opposite party.

Now, it's interesting. Today the New York Times is reporting that the White House is talking about some way of turning around Iraq policy in the face of the kinds of votes that David Welna was just telling us about this week. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has decided not to take a trip that he had planned for this week in order to deal with this issue.

Given the war in Iraq, John, it's interesting the institution that has the highest confidence rating among the public is the military at 69 percent. The presidency, by the way, only one in four have high confidence in the presidency. That's down from a third last year.

YDSTIE: Well, Iraq has certainly frustrated the Democratic Congress. But what about that list of issues the Democrats promised to deliver on in their first 100 days?

ROBERTS: First 100 hours, actually.

YDSTIE: Hundred hours, right.

ROBERTS: Right. Well, one of those actually became law - one and only one - and that was an increase in the minimum wage by $2.10. It's first time the minimum wage has gone up since 1997 so it's an important bill for the working poor. But the others having to do with deficit reduction, or with lobbying a reform, or with instituting the 9/11 Commission, a variety of other issues have not passed, either died in the Senate like negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs, or vetoed by the president like stem cell research.

The close margins for Democrats in the Senate make it hard for them to get something done particularly with the more moderate tilt of the new Democratic senators who are not necessarily on the same page as the House Democrats. And the fact that the Senate is in Democratic hands makes it hard for the Democrats to blame Republicans for not getting things passed.

YDSTIE: Quickly, Cokie, one thing this Congress can do is use its subpoena power to investigate White House officials. And it looks now like the Senate Judiciary Committee is headed for a major showdown over at least one of those summons this week.

ROBERTS: To the former White House political director. And if she refuses to testify, Senator Leahy, the chairman of the committee, says he will cite her for contempt of Congress. And meanwhile more subpoenas are likely to come on the whole Lewis Libby commutation. So we'll see how this all plays with the public, John.

YDSTIE: Thanks, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Nice to be with you.

YDSTIE: NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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YDSTIE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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