Who Likes Congress?

Who are the 9% who approve of Congress’s job performance? Terrence Smith of The Atlantic poses this intriguing question. Congressional popularity is at historic lows across partisan groups, as seen in these trend-lines from Gallup polling:

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To address this question, we utilize data from Pew Research Center’s 2011 Political Typology Survey. Here the response variable is a four-point scale of respondents’ evaluations of Congress, ranging from very unfavorable (1) to very favorable (4). We model Congressional favorability as a function of several demographic and political variables in an effort to determine which factors matter (and which don’t) in promoting positive evaluations of Congress. The results of our ordered probit regression (Stata output) are below.

Using the p < 0.10 criterion of statistical significance, age and higher levels of educational attainment are associated with lower evaluations of Congress. Interestingly, regular consumption of news from conservative media sources (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Glen Beck) or liberal media (MSNBC, NPR, and The New York Times) does not produce more negative attitudes about Congress, but having strong ideological views (identifying as either a “strong conservative” or a “strong liberal”) has a negative effect.

Other demographic variables–household income, being a member of a racial minority group, and frequency of church attendance–do not have a significant influence on Congressional populairty, but residents of Western states are more likely than those in other regions to rate Congress unfavorably. Independents are also more likely to hold Congress in low regard. In the absence of a control for Obama favorability, Tea Party affinity exerts a negative effect on Congressional evaluations. But once Obama approval is included in the model, the Tea Party effect dissipates. At least during the timeframe of this survey (March 2011), attitudes about Obama’s job performance are closely (and positively) tied to those of Congress. Whether recent inter-branch conflict (see our previous post) has diminished or even reversed the direction of this relationship remains to be seen.

Ordered probit regression                         Number of obs   =       1055
                                                  LR chi2(15)     =      77.01
                                                  Prob > chi2     =     0.0000
Log likelihood = -1203.6869                       Pseudo R2       =     0.0310

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    congress |      Coef.   Std. Err.      z    P>|z|     [95% Conf. Interval]
-------------+----------------------------------------------------------------
   education |  -.0441508   .0245159    -1.80   0.072    -.0922011    .0038994
   cons_news |   .0410613   .0792574     0.52   0.604    -.1142803     .196403
liberal_news |   .0477143   .0728977     0.65   0.513    -.0951626    .1905912
         age |  -.0079741   .0021913    -3.64   0.000    -.0122689   -.0036793
house_income |  -.0043044   .0163701    -0.26   0.793    -.0363892    .0277804
       south |  -.0562727    .086803    -0.65   0.517    -.2264034     .113858
        west |  -.1949668   .1012529    -1.93   0.054    -.3934189    .0034852
   northeast |   .0115646    .104539     0.11   0.912    -.1933281    .2164574
       black |   .0518058   .1234729     0.42   0.675    -.1901966    .2938081
    hispanic |  -.1836573    .135234    -1.36   0.174     -.448711    .0813964
  church_att |   .0305451    .022594     1.35   0.176    -.0137383    .0748284
strong_idlgy |   -.321885   .1051244    -3.06   0.002    -.5279249    -.115845
 independent |  -.2744306   .0722035    -3.80   0.000    -.4159468   -.1329144
    teaparty |  -.0863092   .0928141    -0.93   0.352    -.2682216    .0956032
obama_approv |   .2433683   .0841314     2.89   0.004     .0784738    .4082628
-------------+----------------------------------------------------------------
       /cut1 |  -1.405663   .2032377                     -1.804002   -1.007325
       /cut2 |  -.1800999   .2001803                     -.5724461    .2122463
       /cut3 |   1.279258   .2067635                      .8740085    1.684507
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