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Low Ratings For Congress

In the wake of the Senate's filibuster fight, Congress' job approval stands today at just 29 percent, down from the 35 percent measured last month following Congress' dispute over the Terri Schiavo case, and now at its lowest level in this poll since 1996.

Today a majority of Americans, 55 percent, disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. Most of the interviews for this poll were conducted before the filibuster compromise deal was announced Monday night.

CONGRESS' JOB APPROVAL

Approve
Now
29%
4/05
35%
7/96
27%

Disapprove
Now
55%
4/05
51%
7/96
58%

Approval ratings for Congress have historically been low, rarely moving above the 50 percent mark since this poll began asking the question in 1977. However, recent Congressional ratings are at some of their lowest points since the mid-nineties.

Americans also say Congress does not share their priorities — 68 percent think it does not. Most partisans on both sides — including Republicans, whose party controls both chambers — think the legislature is out of touch in this regard.

DOES CONGRESS SHARE YOUR PRIORITIES?

Yes
All
20%
Rep.
29%
Dem.
15%
Ind.
18%

No
All
68%
Rep.
59%
Dem.
75%
Ind.
71%

The sense that Congress doesn't share one's priorities is related to negative views on its job performance.

VIEWS OF CONGRESS: PRIORITIES AND JOB APPROVAL

Congress shares priorities
Approve
62%
Disapprove
28%

Congress does not share priorities
Approve
20%
Disapprove
66%

Neither federal judges nor the filibuster appear prominently on the list of Americans' priorities; the public instead cites the war in Iraq (19 percent), and the economy and jobs (19 percent) as the country's most pressing problems. These issues are followed by terrorism (7 percent) and Social Security (5 percent).

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM

War in Iraq
19%
Economy/Jobs
19%
Terrorism
7%
Social Security
5%

Last month, a CBS News Poll found that Americans were similarly concerned about the economy and war in Iraq, but many named the Terri Schiavo case as the most prominent thing they could recall the Congress doing up to that time.

Neither party's congressional delegation is seen favorably by a majority of Americans. Forty-one percent have a favorable view of the Republicans in Congress and 44 percent see the Democrats in a positive light. This rating has not changed much for the Republicans in the last month; for Democrats, it is down a bit from 49 percent favorable in April.


VIEWS OF THE PARTIES IN CONGRESS

Republicans
Favorable
41%
Unfavorable
48%

Democrats
Favorable
44%
Unfavorable
43%

VIEWS ON THE FILIBUSTER

Americans overwhelmingly say that in general, Congress should take as much time as it needs to review new judges, as opposed to confirming them as quickly as possible.

WHEN REVIEWING JUDGES, CONGRESS SHOULD …

Take as much time as it needs
70%
Review and confirm quickly as possible
25%

Nearly one-third of Americans feel President George W. Bush is having a harder time getting his judicial nominees through the confirmation process than previous presidents — but more feel his experience so far is similar to that of others.

IS BUSH HAVING … GETTING NOMINEES THROUGH

A harder time
30%
An easier time
16%
The same experience
42%

In terms of its impact on the legislature, Americans are split on whether the filibuster is generally a good or bad thing. Thirty-six percent call it a good thing because it lets the Democrats express their views; 33 percent say the procedure obstructs the will of the majority Republicans. Many have no opinion on the filibuster's impact.

THE FILIBUSTER IS …

Mostly good — gives Democrats a voice
36%
Mostly bad — blocks Republican proposals
33%
Don't know/No opinion
26%

When this question is asked without the names of the parties, the answers are much the same, as Americans split on the merits of the filibuster in principal, too: 34 percent say it is good because it gives voice to a minority party, 34 percent condemn it for obstructing a majority's proposals. More than one-quarter have no opinion.

Despite the attention given to the debate by both parties, the term 'filibuster' is hardly a household word in the U.S. In this poll CBS News asked Americans to describe in their own words what the term means. 46 percent could offer no description at all. Thirty-seven percent accurately defined it as involving an extended debate or as a procedural move to delay a vote.

In 1963, amidst the legislative battles that ultimately produced the Civil Rights Act, the Gallup poll asked Americans what the term filibuster meant, and 53 percent answered correctly under Gallup's criteria. Gallup also asked the question in 1949 and found slightly more than half answering correctly.

Senate procedures aside, the issue of federal judges is an important one to Americans. Seven in 10 see the matter as extremely or very important.

ISSUE OF FEDERAL COURT JUDGES IS …

Extremely important
28%
Very important
40%
Somewhat important
24%
Not at all important
7%

In this poll Americans were also asked their views of one of Congress' more prominent members, the House of Representatives' majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas. But three-fourths of Americans cannot offer an opinion on him. Six percent view him favorably and 18 percent unfavorably. Last month, 7 percent had a positive view of DeLay.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 938 adults, interviewed by telephone May 20-23, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for subgroups is higher. Error for questions asked of half-samples is plus or minus five points.
For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.