Robert A. Levine 10-21-14
Public approval ratings for Congress have remained consistently low for a number of years, though recently they have reached depths not previously seen. Americans seem to overwhelmingly agree that members of Congress are doing a terrible job, yet incumbents keep getting repeatedly reelected. Are citizens lying in response to the pollsters’ questions, or is something being missed by either those taking the surveys or the political scientists who are interpreting them.
A Gallop Poll last week reported that only 14 percent of Americans were satisfied with the performance of Congress. This is only five percentage points above the all-time low of 9 percent in November of 2013. Among other questions that were asked, 63 percent of respondents said that reelecting the current members of Congress would be bad for the country and 78 percent believed that Congress would be better if all the incumbents were replaced with new members. In addition, 81 percent of the public felt that most members of Congress were out of touch with the average American, 69 percent thought that most members of Congress focused on the needs of the special interests, and 54 percent felt that most members of Congress were corrupt.
How does one explain the disconnect? The vast majority of citizens are unhappy with Congress and its incumbent members, and still sitting Congressmen and women are reelected over and over again. Another paradoxical bit of information that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the Gallop Poll’s statistics is that large numbers of Americans (though far from a majority) say they are content with their own member of Congress even though they are dissatisfied with Congress as a whole and believe most members of Congress are out of touch, help special interests, and are corrupt. Does that make any sense?
Could it have to do with voters’ name recognition of their own members of Congress instead of considering anonymous politicians who make up the entire body of Congress? A percentage of citizens in each district have some familiarity with their own Congressmen and women. In fact, they may have even voted for that individual. So instead of familiarity breeding contempt, a modicum of familiarity may make that person more likeable, or at least acceptable, to the voters of his or her district than the faceless mass of Congressmen and women.
However, maybe the divergence between Americans’ perceptions of Congress as a whole and each citizen’s view of his or her member of Congress is partially the result of ignorance. Americans know that Congress is doing a poor job, so members of Congress overall have a tarnished reputation. But if you’ve voted for, or had contact with someone, or he or she is a neighbor of sorts (from your district), you don’t want to think badly of that person. Thus, if you’re unaware of your member of Congress’s legislative work, or his or her stance on important issues, you give him or her a free pass and don’t tar that individual with Congress’s reputation. It’s your lack of knowledge that has made him or her seem better than the rest of the body of Congress, when actually there’s little difference. After all, he or she is first and foremost a politician.
American politicians will do or say virtually anything to get elected or reelected, spending more time raising funds and campaigning, then taking care of the country’s business. The low level of regard Americans have for Congress is well deserved, but it should also extend to its individual members. Throw the bums (incumbents) out, particularly those who have refused to compromise and do their jobs legislating for the good of the country.
(photo by Shutterstock)