…what does it mean?
Approval of Congress is not only low, it’s been low for a long time. Americans do not respect their own representatives, although of course they keep electing them, perhaps because voters see no other way. And curiously, they often elect the same ones, over and over, despite their dissatisfaction. It often seems to be a case of disliking all the others rather than one’s own, the one who gets the perks for the state or the district, the one who’s the familiar name.
My knee-jerk reaction is to tend to think disapproval of Congress is an okay thing, since I share it, and it reflects what I consider to be a reasonable perception of reality. But actually, when I think about it more deeply, it occurs to me that it’s not such a great thing after all. Cynicism in the public can breed apathy, a “plague on both your houses” mentality that means that only extremists (some of them holding to extremes that I don’t agree with) will vote. Of course, in an increasing number of House districts, the results are a foregone conclusion anyway, because the district has been gerrymandered so carefully that winning the primary of a certain party means that the election’s a done deal (that’s another reason for the existence of House members who get elected over and over again as long as they stay in favor with their party and therefore are not primaried, and as long as they want to keep going back to Congress).
But with Obama as president, there’s an extra added danger to this public disapproval of Congress. Obama relies on that disapproval to a certain extent; it keeps people from blaming him as much if Congress is the one at fault. Note that his approval ratings are far higher than those of Congress, although IMHO they should be far lower (I know, I know; most Democrats are never going to disapprove of him). And with Congress’s approval ratings so low, my guess is that if Obama decides to do an end run around that pesky branch of government when and if it thwarts him (gun control and debt ceiling, to take two possible examples)—well why then, many people will probably say “more power to him”!