New Survey: Americans Divided Over Why They Dislike Congress

Blog post by Adam Chan, R Street Institute

Source: Congressional Institute.

Source: Congressional 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%).

The full survey is at http://conginst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/congressional_institute_reform_study_full_report.pdf.