There’s a story in the Politico that tries to debunk yesterday’s news that Congress has a single-digit approval rating in a Rasmussen poll. The Politico writer raises some valid points: do the 36 percent of Rasmussen respondents who rated Congress’s performance as “fair” count as approving or disapproving? And while the 9 percent figure isn’t that far off from other polling asking a straigh approve or disapprove question, some surveys have shown a much higher percentage of people have a “favorable” impression of Congress. It is more difficult to separate favorability and approval ratings for an organization than it is for a person like the president or an individual member of Congress, though I would suspect the favorable ratings reflect people’s impressions of Congress as an institution.
But some of this corrective is tendentious. The story contains the complaint that “asking respondents – as Rasmussen did – to say whether Congress is doing an excellent job or a good job amounts to setting a higher bar” than approval/disapproval. There’s also this bit: “Rasmussen is quick to note that polls such as his do not presuppose that respondents are paying close attention to the daily goings-on in the halls and hearing rooms of Capitol Hill.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution tells the Politico most Americans are too dumb to know much about Congress anway: “The reality is, most Americans don’t have a clue of what is actually being done or not being done by Congress,” Mann said. “They are sort of grasping at bits of information that they come on that is general statements of general productivity.”
Look, it’s true of any poll that the people being surveyed may not be well versed in the subject at hand. Even if all of this condescension is justified — and I don’t necessarily concede that point — that doesn’t mean that public opinion isn’t what it is. People don’t take a civics test before going into the voting booth either. The relevance of the Rasmussen poll is debatable — I don’t think Republicans get their hopes up based on the Democratic Congress’s unpopularity — but this story doesn’t really dent the idea that Congress is unpopular.