Poll: Congress, citizens both responsible for legislative failing

Monday, February 15, 2010 at 11:50pm
Center on Congress

A newly released public opinion survey shows that neither Congress nor the citizenry is doing its job in getting the legislative process to work effectively.

The survey, conducted for the Center on Congress, found 77 percent disapproving of the way Congress is handling its job. And when asked, “Do you believe that the delays in Congress are due to serious differences on the issues, or that members just like to bicker and score political points?” sixty-five percent attributed delays to bickering.

But according to the survey, citizens also bear some responsibility for shortcomings in the functioning of Congress. Respondents gave citizens a ‘D’ on “their understanding of what Congress does and how it works,” a ‘C–’ on “contacting members of Congress on issues that concern them” and a ‘C’ on “following what is going on in Congress.”

Only 25 percent of those surveyed said they had attended a public meeting in the past two years where one of their members of Congress was present.

“Interestingly, the public makes harsh judgments not only about how Congress functions, but also about the public’s lack of effort in relating to Congress,” said Edward G. Carmines, director of research for the Center on Congress. “This suggests that the public takes some responsibility for their dismal assessment of the institution.”

The Center on Congress is a non-partisan, educational institution in Indiana established in 1999 to help improve the public's understanding of Congress and to encourage civic engagement.

Overwhelming majorities of those surveyed see America as a nation with a wide diversity of opinions, and believe the legislative process should move at a pace that enables multiple viewpoints to be considered.

When asked, “Would you say that most Americans typically agree on what Congress should do, or are there usually wide differences of opinion?” 84 percent said there are wide differences of opinion. And when asked, “Is it better for Congress to pass legislation quickly and efficiently, or take the time to consider issues thoroughly and carefully?” again 84 percent of respondents preferred the thorough and careful approach.

But the public’s awareness that Congress faces a difficult challenge making policy for a diverse nation does not translate into clear guidance on how disagreements should be resolved in Washington.

When asked if members should “stand up for their principles no matter what,” or “compromise with their opponents in order to get something done,” a solid 55 percent advised the unyielding course. Only 45 percent said members should be willing to compromise.

Whichever path members decide to choose in the months ahead, one thing is clear: It would be hard for the public’s regard for Congress to sink much lower.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said “the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office” is either “personal self-interest” or “special interests.”

Asked to assess Congress in several areas, respondents consistently gave the legislature a grade of ‘D–’ on “controlling the influence of special interest groups”; on “keeping excessive partisanship in check”; on “holding its members to high standards of ethical conduct”; on “conducting its business in a careful, deliberate way”; on “dealing with key issues facing the country”; and on “engaging in productive discussion and allowing all points of view to be heard.”

These negative feelings carried over into questions about the degree to which Congress should be calling the shots in our system of government. When asked, “Over the last decade, has the power of the Congress been about right, too much, or too little?” 56 percent responded “too much.”

Although the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and the authority to declare war, only 22 percent said Congress “should take the lead in determining the federal budget,” and only 15 percent said Congress “should take the lead in deciding to go to war.”

The findings are based on a nationwide survey of 1000 people completed in October and November 2009 by the internet polling firm YouGov Polimetrix.

For complete results, as well as information about the Center on Congress, click here.




4 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/16/10 at 7:41

The respondents grade for themselves on understanding Congress
and contacting their elected Representatives says it all. Far too many
voters and non-voters let their lives be dictated to rather than
taking the small steps toward educating themselves on the issues
in a broader view. This is what allows those lobbying and
donating money, of course, to have the far larger say in all
aspects of government/judicial policies in all forms of

By: sidneyames on 2/16/10 at 8:22

Gov., calling congressman(woman) is like trying to get through to God in person. One only reaches some intern or person who claims to be a representative. Then we speak our voice and wonder who ever gets to hear it.

When I call the white house, the line is busy. What's up with that? Maybee the employees talking to each other or other democrats, but us republiicans can't get a word in edgewise. HOnest!

By: Magnum on 2/16/10 at 10:17

I wrote two congressmen recently. I received one reply about one day later and another about three weeks later. The two responses were so similar, that I literally thought I had received the same email twice until I read the names at the bottom of the response. I guess I should have sent a big check if I had wanted any real consideration.

By: kennyj on 2/16/10 at 12:31

Oh, really, the citizens share the blame. Well, don't know about the others, but it's a waste of time to contact my congressional delegation. They have proven time and again they don't listen to the public. The last Senator to give me any help at all was Barry Goldwater.

I sent e-mails to my legislators and senators voicing opposition to bailouts and Obama's health care bill. You see where that got us. There have been plenty of citizens speaking out recently, but it falls on deaf ears.

Instead of making new laws, why don't they work on fixing the existing problems. I'll tell you why (happened to me). Congress passes vague laws, the bureaucrats interpret them and write regulations. The bureaucrats say they are only going by the law,
Congress says the bureaucrats did not interpret the law as it was intended. But, Congress doesn't fix it because hat's the way they like it--no one is responsible and accountable, Republicans and Democrats are all the same.

Rest assured we are not a Nation of laws, we are a Nation of regulations. I pulled this one on Cooper and stopped him dead in his tracks.

So, do I bother with the Politbureau? Not anymore. Surprised the pollsters can't pick up on that, but I am skeptical of polls anyway.