Column: Partisan habits and unending campaigns drive Congress’s ratings down
Americans don’t trust Congress.
“So what’s new?” you say.
Americans trust Congress less than ever in polling history, according to the latest Gallup Poll. At 10 percent it’s even lower than big business, organized labor and the media, which consistently drag along the bottom. And it is lower than any other institution evaluated by Gallup since 1973, when this form of polling started.
Why is Congress so untrusted?
Gallup avers that, “The divided Congress, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans the House, is likely part of the reason for the low levels of confidence rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans express, and is tied to Americans’ frustrations with Congress’s inability to get much done.”
I will add that in mining many polls over the years since I began to teach political science that there is a more general disgust with politics.
First, the endless and brutal nature of political campaigns has worn down American patience with the total political environment. In Iowa and New Hampshire we are used to the thrill of endless presidential campaigns, and I guess we have a special taste for politics. It’s like pizza with anchovies.
But most people are annoyed, irritated and disgusted with the barrage of mudslinging ads.
Second, the nature of politics in general has become a highly polarized, gotcha and smear-based process. We don’t have to look any further than the ads attacking and defending U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte over her vote on gun control to be reminded long before there is even an election how deep the animus and the clash of ideology has become.
I also call your attention to an actual election that has seized control over New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island airwaves in past months.
That of course is the contest for the seat vacated by former senator John Kerry, which has pitted U.S. Rep. Ed Markey against businessman and former Special Forces soldier Gabriel Gomez.
This is one of those intolerable attacks against public peace and sanity that makes people furious about politics and politicians.
Third, the amount of money that pours into political campaigns and the advent of Super PACs spending unbelievable amounts of money are disturbing to most Americans.
A Reuters poll found that “75 percent of Americans feel there is too much money in politics, and only 25 percent feel there is an intrinsic right to unfettered election spending.”
The poll also revealed that the criticism spans the political spectrum, with 79 percent of Democrats saying there is too much money in politics, as do 68 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of independents.
It is not healthy for a democracy to have basically no confidence in its most important political institution, the Congress.
Remember that the Constitution was written with a House of Representatives, “the people’s chamber,” a Senate to keep the House honest and then a president with fairly limited powers (which have, to be sure, grown in the past hundred years.)
Maybe the answer is Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “bipartisan problem solver” approach, most recently displayed at a summit where he and former Democratic president Bill Clinton “solved” some of the nation’s and world’s problems.
Christie’s approval rating is at 71 percent, with only 28 percent disapproving, according to the latest Kean University poll.
Democrats are also okay with the governor, with 61 percent approving of his job performance.
Even more interesting are the numbers for a potential presidential run: 41 percent of Republicans say they would vote for him in 2016 while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida got only 18 percent – interesting numbers for those of us who live in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Clearly voters like a politician for whom not everything is purely partisan.
(Steffen Schmidt, who has a home in Derry, is a professor of political science at Iowa State University.)