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Poll: Post-shutdown, Congress disapproval at all-time high

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

The recent government shutdown and the debate over raising the debt ceiling have taken their toll on Americans' perceptions of the legislative branch overall. In this poll conducted after the 16-day government shutdown ended, 85 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress does its job - the highest percentage ever recorded since CBS began asking the question in 1977. Just 9 percent approve, matching the all-time low recorded two years ago.


Sixty-four percent of Americans are very concerned Congress will have difficulty reaching agreements on the debt ceiling and funding the government when 

faced with deadlines early next year . Concern is widespread, and even a majority (58 percent) of those who approve of the current agreement are very concerned about what will happen next year.

More broadly, the recent budget negotiations have made 64 percent of Americans pessimistic about Congress' ability to deal with future issues affecting the country; only 11 percent are optimistic.

Government, Direction of the Country

The poll finds disaffection with government generally too. Seventy-six percent don't think they have much say in what the government does - the highest number since 1990 when CBS News began asking this question.

Majorities of Republicans (87 percent), Democrats (68 percent) and independents (77 percent) all feel they don't have much say in what the government does. More than three in four tea party supporters agree.

Now, 72 percent of Americans think the country is off on the wrong track - up six points from before the shutdown and the highest percentage since December 2011. Only 23 percent think the country is headed in the right direction.


The Economy

Most Americans continue to view the condition of the national economy negatively. Two thirds think it is in bad shape; just 32 percent think it is good.

And there's more pessimism about the direction the economy is headed. Thirty-eight percent now think the economy is getting worse - up 11 points from last month and the highest number in nearly two years. Only 21 percent now feel the economy is improving; 41 percent say it is staying the same.


The economy and jobs remain the top concern for Americans (26 percent), but more are now concerned about the budget deficit and partisan politics then last month (12 percent now, 6 percent last month).

The Deal

The American public is divided on the  

agreement reached last week  to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government until early next year. Most Republicans (60 percent) and tea party supporters (62 percent) disapprove of the deal, while most Democrats (64 percent)approve. Among independents, half disapprove.

Furthermore, Americans disagree with making changes to the health care law in the debt ceiling and government funding agreement. Three in four say the health care law should have been separate from any agreement. Americans across the political spectrum hold this view.

Assessing Blame

As they did when the shutdown first began, more Americans blame the Republicans in Congress than blame Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress for the partial government shutdown and the difficulties in reaching an agreement on the debt ceiling. Nearly half (46 percent) blame the Republicans in Congress, while just over a third (35 percent) blames Barack Obama and the Democrats.


Blame continues to break down along party lines. Most Republicans (71 percent) blame Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, while Democrats blame the Republicans in Congress in even higher numbers (85 percent). Independents are divided.

While majorities of Americans think both sides were more concerned with political advantage than what was best for the country, more view the Republicans that way.

More Americans overall think the Republicans in Congress compromised their position too much (30 percent) than think so of President Obama and the Democrats (19 percent). Forty-one percent of Republicans say their own congressional delegation compromised too much; 18 percent of Democrats say Barack Obama and congressional Democrats did.


Views of the President, Congressional Leaders

President Obama's job approval rating stands at 46 percent, but slightly more (49 percent) disapprove.

Most Americans continue to disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling the economy, the top issue among Americans overall. While 42 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove - similar to last month.

Americans are divided as to whether or not Mr. Obama showed strong qualities of leadership during the recent negotiations over the debt ceiling and government shutdown: 46 percent think he did, while more - 50 percent - think he did not.

Both the leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate receive low job ratings, but more Americans disapprove of the job Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is doing (65 percent) than Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (55 percent). Both leaders have net disapproval ratings even among members of their own party.

Overall, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress get low job approval ratings, but Republicans fare worse. While 31 percent of Americans approve of how the Democrats in Congress are doing their job, just 18 percent approve of how Republicans are doing theirs. Disapproval of Republicans in Congress has risen five percentage points since before the shutdown.

Democrats in Congress also get more support from members of their own party. Most Democrats (61 percent) approve of how their own congressional delegation is doing its job; 39 percent of Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing.

Most Americans say the shutdown will matter when they evaluate their own member of Congress: 75 percent say their member's vote and shutdown position will have a lot or some impact, including 41 percent who say it will matter a lot.

As has historically been the case, Americans rate their own member of Congress better than Congress as a whole: 46 percent approve of their own member - down four points from July - and 38 percent disapprove.

The Tea Party

Tea party adherents were front-and-center during the shutdown, and views of the movement have become more negative. Just 14 percent of Americans now hold a favorable view of the tea party, down from 18 percent just as the government shutdown began, and unfavorable views are up seven points. Half of Americans still hold no view of the tea party or are unfamiliar with it, even after these high-profile political battles.


Conservative Republicans  hold net positive views of the tea party (40 percent have a favorable opinion); Democrats and liberals hold especially negative views.

Forty percent of Americans think the tea party has too much influence on the Republican Party, while 21 percent say it has the right amount, and 27 percent say it has too little. But these views differ greatly by ideology: 41 percent of conservatives say the tea party has too little influence, but 46 percent of moderates and 62 percent of liberals say it has too much.

Sixty percent of Americans do not think the tea party reflects the views of most Americans, but tea party supporters do not think of themselves as a minority view - in fact, the opposite. As with many groups, tea party supporters think their own views are held by most Americans.

The Political System

Most Americans are also unhappy with the U.S. political system. Eight in 10 don't think the political system is working because of fighting and gridlock. Only 16 percent say the political system is working the way it should with both sides fighting for what they believe is right.

Views of how things are going in Washington are similar to what they were at the beginning of the government shutdown. Eighty-six percent are either dissatisfied or angry, including 39 percent who are angry.

Government Spending

With more budget negotiations on the horizon, Americans were asked to choose which of the largest items in the federal budget they would be most willing to change in order to cut spending. More choose military spending (41 percent), over Medicare (23 percent) or Social Security (16 percent).

Cutting military spending is the top choice of Democrats (51 percent) and independents (41 percent), while Republicans are more inclined to choose Medicare (30 percent).


The Affordable Care Act

The signup process on the website for the new health care exchanges has had

well-publicized problems since its launch earlier this month. Many Americans seem to be aware of those issues: only 12 percent think the sign up process is going well, while far more - 49 percent -- say it is not going well.

However, more than a third of Americans can't evaluate how signup is going.

Overall views of the 2010 health care law are the same as they were when the program launched earlier in October. More Americans disapprove (51 percent) than approve of it (43 percent).

Views continue to be highly partisan: 74 percent of Democrats approve of it, compared to 87 percent of Republicans who disapprove. Fift-five percent of independents disapprove.

Forth-three percent of Americans overall think the law goes too far in changing the country's health care system. Among those who disapprove of it, 75 percent think it goes too far, but another 12 percent think it does not go far enough.

Throughout CBS News' polling on the subject, Americans have consistently expected that the new health care law will lead to increased costs. Also, 40 percent think the quality of their own health care will get worse. Views have changed little since the law was enacted in March 2010.

Those who disapprove of the law are especially likely to say they expect their costs to rise and the quality of their care to worsen.


There is widespread support for providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements, including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks and learning English. Seventy-seven percent favor that; just 20 percent oppose. Support cuts across partisan lines.

Still, more Americans (50 percent) think securing the nation's border should be a higher priority than addressing the status of illegal immigrants (43 percent). Republicans are more likely than Democrats and independents to place a priority on border security.


This poll was conducted by telephone October 18-21, 2013 among 1,007 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.


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