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Confidence in the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court all plummets

Politically speaking, and to mangle Shakespeare, now is the summer of our discontent.

At least according to Gallup, which reported recently that Americans’ confidence in all three branches of the US government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30 percent) and Congress (7 percent), and a six-year low for the presidency (29 percent). The presidency had the largest drop of the three branches this year, down seven percentage points from its previous rating of 36 percent.

“Since June 2013, confidence has fallen seven points for the presidency, four points for the Supreme Court, and three points for Congress,” Gallup reported, based on a poll taken in early June. “Confidence in each of the three branches of government had already fallen from 2012 to 2013.”

Why this lack of confidence in government?

• Congressional gridlock with no sign of compromise as leaders and would-be leaders talk past one another, seeming to place debating points above legislative accomplishment.

• A Supreme Court that seems perpetually divided along a conservative/liberal axis, as it was this past week on cases related to birth control.

• A presidency – although he’s not named in this institutional poll, everybody knows it’s Barack Obama – inclined to deal in nuance and shades of grey as success comes slowly (if at all) on tough issues like reinvigorating the economy, disengaging from unpopular wars, fixing an immigration system, and countering climate change.

The public preference seems to be along the lines of what actor John Wayne once declared: “If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

There’s more recent bad news for Obama.

The independent Quinnipiac University poll reported this past week that one-third of American voters think he’s the worst US president since World War II. (Another 28 percent pick George W. Bush.)

What’s more, 45 percent of voters say America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election, according to Quinnipiac. (Thirty-eight percent say the country would be worse off with Romney.)

“Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Would Mitt have been a better fit? More voters in hindsight say yes.”

Such sourness is across the board.

“How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right; almost all of the time, most of the time, only some of the time, or hardly ever?” Quinnipiac asked.

Just 14 percent picked “most” or “almost all” of the time. Thirty-seven percent said “hardly ever.”

If there’s any consolation for Obama, it’s that his approval rating may – emphasize “may” – improve once he leaves office.

That’s been the case for six of the past nine presidents, according to Gallup (John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton). The two major exceptions are Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam) and Richard Nixon (Watergate).

But the bottom line in Gallup’s “confidence” poll of the three branches of government, which it has been taking since 1991, is this:

“While Americans clearly have the lowest amount of confidence in the legislative branch, ratings for all three are down and are at or near their lowest points to date. At this point, Americans place much greater faith in the military and the police than in any of the three branches of government.

“Members of Congress are likely resigned to the fact that they are the most distrusted institution of government, but there should be concern that now fewer than one in 10 Americans have confidence in their legislative body. And Obama, like the younger Bush before him, is surely aware that the presidency’s low confidence rating is not auspicious for his ability to govern and rally the public behind his favored policies.

“While the Supreme Court, with unelected justices serving indefinite terms, is immune to the same public pressures that elected members of Congress and the president must contend with, it is not immune to the drop in confidence in US government institutions that threatens and complicates the US system of government.”

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/07/2014 - 09:54 am.

    the 7% dissolution

    Of course, if Congress’s rating drops the same 7% as Obama’s it would be at zero.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/07/2014 - 04:58 pm.

    The congressional rating is meaningless

    Ninety percent of the people support their congress person for re-election. Regardless of how they feel about the institution in general, it’s not their guy who is responsible apparently.

    Of course, the presidential rating is meaningless too since he isn’t running again.

  3. Submitted by Josh Ondich on 07/08/2014 - 08:43 pm.

    Discontent is universal, but change to status quo not likely

    The poll shows government institutions are distrusted overall by the American public. Could there be any real change in the near future? Not likely. The political system is entrenched by the two parties to the point where polarization and gridlock can occur with little or no effect on the status quo in Washington DC. Are there possible scenarios that could happen in the 2014 midterm election. Yes. One possible scenario is that the GOP could gain the Senate and keep the House. The only way gridlock could break in this scenario is if President Obama works with a more pragmatic bi-partisan agenda in his final two years. That strategy worked the best for President Ronald Regan with a Dem controlled congress, and somewhat with President Clinton with a GOP controlled congress. The other scenario is the Dems get control of the House and Keep the Senate. It would break gridlock because the president could push through more of his agenda with his own party, instead of negotiated bills with GOP leaders. I do not see this outcome happening at this point, but in either scenario polarization will exist deeply and any bill passed will be ridiculed by either side with a ideological agenda. The intra-party fighting within the GOP could or would still exist even if the GOP gets majority in both House and Senate only leaving a GOP congress in a prolonged stalemate with itself instead of the current stalemate between senate dems and house republicans. I feel its time for smaller political parties to pick up seats in Congress just to get the two parties to start working towards common ground on the critical issues that face this country.

    Josh D. Ondich
    Prior Lake

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/09/2014 - 11:08 am.

      Bill Clinton’s accomplishments

      After the republican revolution of 1994 when they took over both the House and the Senate, Bill Clinton was forced to answer the humiliating question asked of him by the White House press corps as to whether or not he was still relevant.

      To his credit, he insisted that he was and then went on to (reluctantly) sign landmark welfare reform and two balanced budgets, all pieces of republican legislation. What’s amusing is that today he takes credit for the balanced budgets that, in truth, were Newt Gingrich’s. Heh

      But I don’t think Barack Obama is interested in remaining relevant the way Clinton was and will simply attempt to govern by executive order when the republicans control congress.

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