CONGRESS

Amidst Debt Fight, Discontent With Congress

Time for recess: The debt battle that turned Congress upside-down nears end.
National Journal
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Matthew Cooper
Aug. 1, 2011, 5:30 p.m.

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. 

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