Blog post by Adam Chan, R Street Institute
The public’s approval of Congress has fallen in the past decade, but the reasons for this decline are nuanced and varied. The Congressional Institute, a non-profit organization aimed at informing voters about Congress and educating Congress on how best to serve constituents, partnered with the Winston Group to survey 1,000 national voters. They found:
Approval ratings of Congress have tanked over the past decade.
- Overall congressional approval has fallen from 27% in 2006 to 12% in 2016.
- The most common reason for disapproval is ineffectiveness, however Democrats view ineffectiveness as connected to obstructing the President, and Republicans see ineffectiveness as putting self-interest ahead of the people.
Voters’ approval of their specific congressman has also declined.
- Voters have a higher approval of their congressman than for Congress overall.
- Democrats have a higher approval rating of their congressmen than Republicans do.
Voters’ outlook on the future of the country has also declined dramatically.
- Only 26% of voters believe that the country is moving in the right direction, and 61% believe that, “The next generation will not have the same quality of life as you had.”
- The more conservative the voter, the more pessimistic they are in the future.
There is some consensus among the public regarding a number of problems with Congress.
- Most voters believe that partisanship is primarily caused by congressmen’s inability to work together, rather than by national ideological differences.
- Lack of accountability tops voters’ list of concerns about Congress, followed by “the way Congress spends my money,” and “not presenting a clear plan to voters and following through.”
- Republicans are especially concerned with congressional spending, while Democrats are very concerned with Congress not fulfilling its constitutional role
- Voters overwhelmingly (81%) believe that the media has incentives to conceal Congress’ positive accomplishments and wish the media would focus more on policy and less on congressional personalities (89%).
- Most voters (79%) ---and conservatives especially---believe their voices are not being heard.
Voters’ conception of the inter-branch balance of power falls along partisan lines.
- 72% of Republicans believe too much power has shifted to the executive branch.
- 62% of Democrats believe too much power has shifted to the legislative branch.
Voters’ have both shared and differing views on reforms.
- The three most popular reform proposals were: (1) Publishing Congressmen’s voting records; (2) Separate funding bills for each department so voters can better understand each bill; and (3) A budget every two years
- Republican voters also strongly favored mandatory congressional approval of executive branch regulations and an increase in congressional oversight of federal departments, while Democratic voters also favored making filibusters harder.
- Voters overwhelmingly believe that the reform proposals offered would help improve congressional accountability (72%), their understanding of the legislative process (70%) and their voice being heard (59%).