Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Is Congress really as unpopular as North Korea?

July 15, 2013 by NCC Staff


Senate majority leader Harry Reid raised eyebrows this weekend when he said Americans liked North Korea more than the current Congress. But is that actually the case?

Public March in North Korea
Public March in North Korea

The intrepid folks at the Washington Post did some fact-checking about Reid’s statement on “Meet The Press” on Sunday.

“Is there anyone out there in the world, real world, that believes that what`s going on in the Congress of the United States is good? Our approval rating is lower than North Korea`s,” the Democratic leader said while engaged in a discussion about gridlock and filibuster.

It turns out that, at least by the Post’s measurements, that Reid might have overstated any American affection for the regime of Kim Jong-un, the basketball-loving North Korean dictator.

The Post’s Glenn Kessler spoke with Reid’s office, which pointed to a pair of recent Gallup surveys. One June survey, which was widely reported, said the confidence in Congress was at its lowest level since 1973 at 10 percent.

The other, from March, said that only 12 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of North Korea.

Kessler then turned to the newspaper’s pollster, who pointed out the two surveys weren’t comparable.

“The March Gallup survey is the only poll this year to ask ‘favorable’ opinions of North Korea, which provides a clean way to compare popularity,” said Scott Clement, a survey research analyst at Capital Insight. “Reid’s office is comparing favorability of North Korea to confidence  in Congress, which are not comparable, since the word ‘confidence’ may refer to specifics of ability and effectiveness rather than basic likeability (akin to job approval).”

The Post also didn’t point out that the surveys were taken during two different time periods, but it did offer a better way to compare North Korea and Congress, using a March 2013 Washington Post poll about the favorability rating of Congress.

In that match up, Congress had a favorability rating of 30 percent, compared with 12 percent for North Korea. But Americans had higher favorability ratings for Cuba (34 percent) and Venezuela (40 percent) than Congress.

In comparison with the other two branches of the federal government, the Supreme Court had a 55 percent rating in the March 2013 poll, while President Barack Obama had a 57 percent favorability rating.

Since then, the president’s numbers have fallen, but he’s still more popular than Congress. A recent Fox News poll put President Obama’s approval rating at 43 percent, compared with 15 percent for Congress. An early June Gallup poll put Obama’s rating at 50 percent, compared with 17 percent for Congress.

Nearly 50 percent of people in the Gallup poll were upset about gridlock in Congress, or its inability to pass legislation.

Recent Constitution Daily Stories

Is flashing your car’s headlights protected by the First Amendment?

Why the Senate can’t filibuster to save the filibuster

An advance look at one of the next big Supreme Court cases

Why the constitutional option on the filibuster matters

Sign up for our email newsletter