Friday, September 21, 2007

Lying Statistics: When people bring up Congressional approval

One of the things that really bothers me is when people throw around the phrase "Democrat-controlled Congress" and "Approval rating".

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

    —Benjamin Disraeli

Usually, it's because they make the implicit assumption that "People rate Congress poorly" and "Democrats have a slight majority in Congress" add up to "People rate Democrats poorly". Given the statistics available, this is false.

So, after pointing people to the right statistics over and over, I'll just put it in this blog post because I'm sick and tired of ersatz wit from smarmy conservative partisans saying "Hah, the Democrats suck [even worse than Republicans], look at Congress' approval rating!"

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My prime exhibit is a set of polls conducted by the Washington-Post and ABC-News. In these polls, they actually asked questions about why voters are giving Congress a low approval rating.

Why separate ratings? Whole-Congress Polls don't mean much.

Congress has traditionally polled badly, and is not uncommon for them to poll worse than the President. This is generally because when people rate Congress unfavorably, it doesn't reflect on the people in it they like—it's always the other side that is the problem. Even people who are in Congress can say nasty things about the institution, because then they look like "reformers" and "mavericks".

At any rate, the claims people make out of the statistics rely on a fundamental logical flaw: People won't rate Congress the same way they rate Democrats-in-Congress, and they are not interchangeable statistics and Congress' rating cannot be used to support the idea that people like Bush because of it.

Myth #1: "People disapprove of Democrats, who control Congress"

Fact: While the Democrats currently control congress, it is by a very slim margin. In fact, Republicans are still a near-equal force and are using the filibuster to maintain influence.

Fact: People disapprove of Republicans in Congress more than Democrats in Congress. In the most recent December poll, the group "Democrats in Congress" had an approval ratings of 40%, versus 32% for Republicans and 32% for Congress overall.

Congress' ratings, lower than the usual low, appear to be sinking more due to public dissatisfaction the Republican half.

Partial-Myth #2: "People are angry at the Democrat-controlled-congress for not getting anything done"

This is only a partial myth, because the reason why people are angry is important, and often ignored by Conservatives. The September poll shows 55% of respondents find Democrats are "not going far enough" to oppose the current war policy, and this likely explains their eroding popularity.

However, the other part is general Congressional activity. In the same September poll 82% said that Congress has accomplished "not much" or "nothing" this year, but in a followup question 51% blame "Bush and Republicans in Congress" while 25% blame "Democrats in Congress". This supports the theory that people are mainly dissatisfied that Democrats are still "not doing enough" when it comes to the war. While Democrats may be seen as ineffective, people see Republicans as the real obstacle.

Myth #3: "Bush has a higher approval rating than Congress! HAHAHAHAH!"

Closely tied to Myth #1, we see that it's more accurate to say that Bush has a higher rating than his own party in Congress.

Poll links:

  1. Oct 2007 poll:

  2. Nov 2007 poll:

  3. Dec 2007 poll:
  4. July 2007 poll:


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