Amidst a tumultuous fight over raising the debt ceiling, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with Washington and eager to elect fresh faces to Congress, raising warning flags for Democrats and Republicans alike. The poll showed discontent at about the same levels seen in the 2006 and 2010 “wave” elections.
The results appear in the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll. When asked if they think “most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve reelection or do you think it’s time to give new people a chance?” 79 percent of respondents said it was time for new people and only 10 percent thought that most members are doing a good enough job to deserve reelection.
While respondents were more favorably inclined toward their own representatives rather than Congress as a whole, a majority of respondents still thought that when it came to their own representative it was “time to give a new person a chance.” In the survey, 31 percent of respondents said that their member of Congress deserves reelection but 53 percent said it was time for a new person.
This is a figure that should give all members of Congress pause regardless of party. Before the 2010 election, which swept 87 new members into Congress, 58 percent of likely voters responded to a CBS News/New York Times survey that it was time for a new person. Granted that poll was right before the election and measured likely voters as opposed to all adults. Still, it’s a worrisome sign for members of Congress and a sign that the public is deeply dissatisfied with their performance in ways that echo that historic election.
Likewise when it comes to important problems facing the country, only 7 percent of respondents in the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll had a lot of confidence that Washington could make progress over the next year. Thirty-five percent expressed some confidence. But 35 percent expressed “not much confidence,” and 23 percent said they had “no confidence at all.” These numbers reveal even more dissatisfaction than in September of 2010—again, a red flag for Congress that the public has deep doubts about their ability to make progress on issues of importance to the nation.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on July 28-31 and surveyed 1,001 adults. The poll has a 3.6-point error margin for the full sample (the margin is larger for sample subgroups). The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys that will track the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session through 2012.
The dissatisfaction with Congress cuts across party lines, according to the survey. This also echoes the mood before the 2010 landslide. According to the CBS/New York Times poll from October 2010, when respondents were asked whether their representative has performed his or her job well enough to deserve reelection, or do you think it’s time to give a new person a chance, 58 percent said it was time for a new person. The number rose to 63 percent for independents, 68 percent for Republicans, and dropped to 45 percent for Democrats. In the latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, 60 percent of independents said it was time for a new person. The figure was 50 percent for Democrats and 43 percent for Republicans.
There was some good news for President Obama in the poll. When asked which party they trusted to do a better job coping with the main problems the country faces over the next few years, they chose Democrats over Republicans by a 43 to 31 margin. And in the debate over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling, respondents were asked “who do you believe has behaved more responsibly, President Obama or Republicans in Congress?” By a significant margin, respondents said President Obama (48 percent) to Republicans in Congress (31 percent).
Interestingly, on the question of how to handle the debt ceiling itself, respondents were split almost evenly. They were asked whether they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who “voted to allow the government to borrow more money by increasing the federal debt ceiling.” Despite the wide consensus that default would hurt the economy, 45 percent said less likely. Conversely, 45 percent of respondents said that they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to allow the government to default on its financial obligations. A frustrated public, it seems, is also a divided one.
This article appears in the Aug. 2, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.