CONGRESS

Poll: Independents Are Angry, Despairing

The House Chamber fills in anticipation of South Korean President Lee Myung-baks address to a joint meeting of Congress in the US Capitol, in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)  
National Journal
Steven Shepard
Dec. 13, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans are as dis­gus­ted with their gov­ern­ment — and with Con­gress, in par­tic­u­lar — as they have ever been, and the over­whelm­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment of in­de­pend­ents por­tends great elect­or­al un­cer­tainty next Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an ana­lys­is of the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

Over­all, the poll shows that those voters aligned with neither party lack con­fid­ence in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and are more eager to change the people who make up that gov­ern­ment. In­de­pend­ents are also sig­ni­fic­antly less con­fid­ent in the gov­ern­ment than they were last sum­mer, be­fore the bit­ter, scorched-earth fight over rais­ing the fed­er­al debt ceil­ing and the fail­ure of the su­per com­mit­tee to pro­duce a plan to re­duce the budget de­fi­cit.

Twenty-nine per­cent of re­spond­ents have “a lot” or “some con­fid­ence” that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will make pro­gress over the next year on the most im­port­ant prob­lems fa­cing the coun­try. But among in­de­pend­ents, just 18 per­cent ex­press that level of con­fid­ence. A whop­ping 80 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents say they have “not much con­fid­ence” or “no con­fid­ence at all” in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to make pro­gress next year.

The poll shows a sharp de­cline in in­de­pend­ents’ op­tim­ism just since late Ju­ly, as both polit­ic­al parties ramped up ne­go­ti­ations over the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s debt lim­it. The debt-ceil­ing fight and the su­per com­mit­tee’s fail­ure have taken a sig­ni­fic­ant toll on how Amer­ic­ans (and in­de­pend­ents in par­tic­u­lar) view the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. In the pre­vi­ous poll, 42 per­cent of voters and 36 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents said they had “a lot” or “some” con­fid­ence in the gov­ern­ment. Sixty-three per­cent of in­de­pend­ents said they had “not much” or “no con­fid­ence at all.”

Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, Demo­crats re­tain the most con­fid­ence in gov­ern­ment, with 48 per­cent ex­press­ing some level of con­fid­ence, slightly lower than the 54 per­cent who ex­pressed some con­fid­ence in Ju­ly. Only 23 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans ex­press some con­fid­ence, down from 33 per­cent.

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, which sur­veyed 1,008 adults by land­line and cell phone from Dec. 8-11. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.7 per­cent­age points. The mar­gin of er­ror is high­er for 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 what is likely to be a tu­mul­tu­ous 2012.

Only a quarter of in­de­pend­ents — com­pared with 38 per­cent of Demo­crats and 34 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans — think their con­gres­sion­al rep­res­ent­at­ive has per­formed his or her job well enough to de­serve reelec­tion. Fifty-six per­cent of in­de­pend­ents say that it is time to give a new per­son a chance, com­pared with 49 per­cent of Demo­crats and 46 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans.

On this meas­ure, in­de­pend­ents’ views are vir­tu­ally un­changed from late Ju­ly, when 24 per­cent said they thought their mem­ber of Con­gress de­served to be reelec­ted and 60 per­cent pre­ferred a new per­son.

And only 7 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents said most oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress de­serve to be reelec­ted; 10 per­cent of all Amer­ic­ans be­lieve they do. This find­ing is stat­ist­ic­ally un­changed from Ju­ly.

In­de­pend­ents’ ca­pri­cious­ness has led to three con­sec­ut­ive tur­bu­lent con­gres­sion­al-elec­tion cycles. In 2006, in­de­pend­ents voted over­whelm­ingly for House Demo­crats, al­low­ing the party to re­claim both houses of Con­gress. Exit polls showed that 57 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents voted for the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate for the House, while just 39 per­cent sup­por­ted the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate.

In 2008, 51 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents voted for the Demo­crat­ic House can­did­ate, com­pared with 43 per­cent who voted for the Re­pub­lic­an, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. Pres­id­ent Obama won a sim­il­ar per­cent­age, 52 per­cent, of in­de­pend­ents, while Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., won 44 per­cent.

But in 2010, in­de­pend­ents’ dis­con­tent led to the Re­pub­lic­an land­slide that gave the GOP con­trol of the House. Fifty-sev­en per­cent of in­de­pend­ents voted for the Re­pub­lic­an con­gres­sion­al can­did­ate, com­pared with just 37 per­cent for the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate.

Asked wheth­er they prefer one-party con­trol of both cham­bers, or that the two parties should have split con­trol of Con­gress, an over­whelm­ing 65 per­cent ma­jor­ity of in­de­pend­ents sup­por­ted split con­trol “so the two cham­bers can act as a check on each oth­er,” ac­cord­ing to the new Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll.

Yet, with a pres­id­en­tial race at the top of the tick­et and con­fid­ence in gov­ern­ment near an all-time low, the great dis­con­tent with both parties means that the out­come in 2012 re­mains am­bigu­ous.

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