Friday, December 13, 2013
By LAURA LITVAN Bloomberg News
WASHINGTON - The public's scorn for a gridlocked Congress continues to grow, with a new Gallup poll showing confidence in the legislative body falling to 10 percent, the lowest level Gallup has ever found for any institution.
The poll released Thursday placed Congress dead last among 16 institutions in a survey that included banks, the U.S. Supreme Court and the presidency. Congress was behind organized labor and health maintenance organizations in public confidence.
Congress's 10 percent rating in the survey was 3 percentage points lower than in a similar Gallup survey of the public's views of major institutions conducted at the same time last year.
"Partisan bickering, gridlock, an inability to get things done -- that's what Americans are complaining about," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said in an interview Thursday.
The decline in confidence in Congress dates to 1973, when it was 42 percent, a level not matched since. While it's ebbed and flowed, public opinion of the institution has fallen sharply in the past decade. Gallup's current level of 10 percent is in line with other polls that show historically poor approval ratings for Congress and its top leaders.
Both chambers are seeking ways to push past the partisan fighting in a bid to approve immigration legislation this year, with the full Senate debating the most significant revision to immigration law in a generation while House members are seeking to craft a measure. Lawmakers in both parties say they can't predict whether a final measure will make it to the president's desk for his signature.
Republicans took over the House majority in 2011, while the Democrats have the majority in the Senate.
Newport, a longtime Congress-watcher, said the gridlock is driven by factors including newer methods of redrawing congressional districts that create House seats either more Republican or Democratic-leaning than in the past. House members must worry every two years about whether voters in their more partisan districts will return them to office, Newport said.
"The ramification is that Congress will continue to have disdain heaped on it until they can find a way to work around these structural issues," Newport said.
Still, voters last year returned the vast majority of incumbents to their Senate and House seats, even with the low approval ratings. Some senators seeking re-election next year say they want a repeat with voters more focused on individual voting records than the broader concerns of Congress.
"They will judge their individual senators and congressmen based on what they've done," said Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat up for re-election in 2014.
Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has said he won't seek another term in 2016, said the poll result was deserved.
"Why should it be that high?" Coburn said. "Look, we're incompetent. I think it's fully appropriate."
In the Gallup poll, the institution with the highest rating was the U.S. military, with 76 percent of Americans expressing confidence. That was followed by small business, with 65 percent.
The phone survey of 1,529 U.S. adults was conducted June 1-4. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.