Americans say the relationship between President Obama and Congress was more frayed than usual in 2013—and, if anything, only likely to get worse next year.
The first year of Obama's second term has been marked by a government shutdown, no significant legislative achievements, and incessant bickering between the administration and Capitol Hill, prompting 57 percent of Americans to say the White House and Congress are cooperating less than usual, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
Only 5 percent of Americans said Obama and Congress cooperated more than usual this year. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
With Congress on track to pass the fewest new laws this year since at least 1947, Americans are even more pessimistic about a renewed cooperative spirit emerging in 2014, when the congressional midterm elections will be held.
While 16 percent of poll respondents said they expected more cooperation next year, 60 percent said the level of cooperation would stay as bad as it is today, and 23 percent predicted relations would deteriorate even further.
The fact that Congress and the White House don't get along is the rare issue on which Democrats and Republicans agree, with 56 percent and 65 percent of the two parties, respectively, saying relations in 2013 are worse than normal.
The Democratic pessimism is slightly lower in large part due to the views of blacks and other nonwhite Americans. African-Americans were the only demographic group in the survey in which even 10 percent of respondents said the level of cooperation in 2013 was better than usual, perhaps a reflection of residual goodwill toward the efforts of the nation's first African-American president.
But at least a plurality of every demographic group in the poll—across all races, ages, incomes, education levels, and regions—said the president and Congress were getting along less well than usual in 2013.
Still, some notably different perceptions of the current climate emerged. Millennials, those between 18 and 29, were the most likely to say the current lack of cooperation ranked "about the same as usual." While 43 percent of millennials felt that way, only 31 percent of those age 50 and over—Americans who have witnessed far more presidencies—agreed.
Those over 50 are particularly dour about the prospects for 2014: 85 percent said the level of cooperation would either be the same (61 percent) or even worse (26 percent).
Men and women in the survey were largely in agreement, both in ranking 2013 as less cooperative than normal (58 percent and 56 percent, respectively) and in predicting that 2014 would bring more of the same (58 percent and 61 percent, respectively).
Lawmakers and aides on the Hill tend to agree that relations between the White House and Congress are at a low point—they just disagree on who is to blame. Obama reached out to Senate Republicans this spring and summer through a series of private dinners at the White House and around Washington, but nothing substantive emerged from the talks. Instead, the government shut down for the first time in 17 years.
Democrats blame an intransigent and insurgent tea party. "Legislation is the art of compromise, building consensus, but we don't have that now," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a Las Vegas television station this week. "The tea party will not allow Republicans to compromise."
Republicans blame an aloof and out-of-touch White House. "The Senate and the president continue to stand in the way of the American people's priorities," Speaker John Boehner said on the House floor Wednesday. "When will they learn to say 'yes' to common ground?"
Americans don't see either side cooperating much now—or in the near future.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,003 adults by landline and cell phone from Nov. 21-24.
The Do-Nothing Congress Sets a Record
This article appears in the December 5, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.