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Sen. John McCain has been a member of the U.S. Congress since 1982, but as he runs for president, he's putting as much rhetorical distance between himself and his Capitol Hill colleagues as possible.
While defending his support for a gas tax holiday in a June 18, 2008, interview, McCain tarred his fellow members of Congress as "rather wealthy" folks who are "out of touch" with the needs and fears of working people on fixed incomes.
"You know, the approval rating of Congress is down to 13 percent," he said. "Maybe they ought to pay a little more attention to their constituents."
On June 11, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll awarded Congress a 13 percent approval rating. And that's the same figure McCain offered. During roughly the same time period, Gallup, Fox News and AP/Ipsos all conducted polls which put the approval rating at 19, 19 and 23 percent respectively.
All had margins of error of between 3 and 4 percentage points.
When Democrats took slim control of Congress in early 2007, there was a brief honeymoon, but approval has steadily dropped, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Thanks in part to its relatively faceless quality, Congress makes a convenient whipping boy when the nation is dissatisfied, Keeter said. (The same Gallup poll that put Congress at 19 percent found that 30 percent of respondents approved of President George W. Bush.)
And dissatisfied we are. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal approval rating of 13 percent was a record low for the poll, besting a 15 percent rating in April 1992.
Though the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is slightly out of step with others recently conducted, it's highly reputable and there's no way to prove the figure false, Keeter said. And anyway, he said, whether it's 13 percent or 23 percent, it's not good news for Congress.
McCain may have chosen the poll figure that most dramatically made his point, but the numbers are as good as any and the overall picture he presented — that of a public overwhelmingly displeased with Congress — is right on.
We rule his statement True.
NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Conducted June 6-9, 2008
Gallup poll, Conducted June 9-12, 2008
Interview with Jeff Horwitt, analyst at Hart Research Associates, June 23, 2008
Interview with Scott Keeter, director of survey research, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, June 23, 2008
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