Poll: Congress' approval rating drops to single digits in California

The Sacramento BeeSeptember 16, 2011 

It's come to this: Single digits.

Battered by the failing economy and its own partisan gridlock, Congress' standing among California voters has fallen to an all-time low.

Even four-term Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein can't escape the slide, according to a new Field Poll. A plurality of voters is now disinclined to re-elect her next year.

"The toxic atmosphere in Washington," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said, "it's affecting everybody."

Just 9 percent of California voters approve of the job Congress is doing, the poorest assessment since Field started polling on the question 20 years ago. Eighty-six percent of California voters disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to the poll.

The public approval rating, lower even than any given the notoriously unpopular California state Legislature, is "just incredible," DiCamillo said.

Intense focus on the debt-ceiling debate and downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's "kind of scared (voters) in a way that I don't think they've been scared," he said.

Though California voters have become increasingly displeased with Congress in recent years, never before has the legislative body seen its approval rating in single digits.

As recently as March, 17 percent of California voters approved of the job Congress was doing.

The poll is yet another mark of dissatisfaction nationwide with President Barack Obama and Congress, with widespread disappointment in Washington's handling of the economy and unemployment. Less than half of California voters approve of the job Obama is doing.

"I just find all the bickering back and forth annoying," said Mohammad Malaekeh, a pediatrician from Granite Bay. "It just feels like nothing ever gets done."

Feinstein's job approval rating is now the lowest it has been since she was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992.

Forty-one percent of voters approve of the job Feinstein is doing, just two percentage points more than disapprove, according to the poll. Three months ago, voters approved of her performance by a 15 percentage-point margin.

Unlike before each of Feinstein's previous re-election campaigns, a plurality of voters is now disinclined to re-elect her, 44 percent to 41 percent.

Though the poll suggests Feinstein is weakened, it may matter little next year.

"We're not seeing Republicans lining up to fight her," DiCamillo said.

Feinstein remains more popular in California's Democratic coastal stretches than in more conservative inland areas. In the state's inland areas, just 31 percent of voters are inclined to re-elect her. Forty-six percent of voters in coastal California are inclined to re-elect her, according to the poll.

Malaekeh, a 46-year-old Democrat, said he would vote against Feinstein, except he doesn't think any Republican would do better.

"I think we just need a whole new slew of elected officials," he said.

Just one year after winning re-election, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer's approval rating is also the lowest of her tenure. Forty-two percent of voters disapprove of the job she is doing, three percentage points more than approve, according to the poll.

Boxer was rated favorably by a margin of two percentage points in March, though slightly more voters disapproved than approved of her performance a year ago.

Boxer is held in especially low esteem by Republicans: Seventy-two percent of Republican voters disapprove of the job she is doing. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats view her favorably.

Overall, the dismal assessment of Congress is shared by voters of different political parties: Eleven percent of Democrats and 7 percent of Republicans and independent voters approve of the job Congress is doing, according to the poll.

Not surprisingly, voters in heavily Democratic California view congressional Republicans more negatively than congressional Democrats. Thirty percent of voters approve of the job congressional Democrats are doing, while 19 percent rate Republicans favorably.

Lloyd Starn, a retired dairy farmer who lives in Turlock, has become increasingly weary of elected officials who he said fear compromise.

"I feel that their major emphasis is on being re-elected rather than doing something to help the country," the 79-year-old Republican said.

Starn isn't sure what that something might be, but he could suggest who members of Congress might ask.

"I think they need to look to God for wisdom," he said. "It appears that some of them never look up."

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