Congratulations, Washington: Americans Are Now More Concerned About Your Dysfunction Than the Economy

House Republicans celebrate passing a spending bill that defunds the Obamacare and keeps the government running.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Oct. 9, 2013, 7:11 a.m.

Con­gress has had an ap­prov­al rat­ing hov­er­ing in the teens for sev­er­al years now. That’s not new. But as Wash­ing­ton stumbles in­to the second week of the shut­down, con­cern for a dys­func­tion­al gov­ern­ment has reached re­cord levels.

Since 2008, the eco­nomy and jobs have been the top pri­or­it­ies for the Amer­ic­an people — a stat­ist­ic com­monly cited by law­makers when they’re try­ing to push for le­gis­la­tion. But now, ac­cord­ing to a new Gal­lup Poll, gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion is the most im­port­ant prob­lem fa­cing the United States. At 33 per­cent, this is the highest per­cent­age since the poll was star­ted in 1939.

Oth­er pri­or­it­ies for Amer­ic­ans sit well be­low this mark, in­clud­ing the eco­nomy (19 per­cent), un­em­ploy­ment (12 per­cent), the de­fi­cit (12 per­cent), and health care (12 per­cent).

And this level of con­cern for the dys­func­tion in Wash­ing­ton is sub­stan­tially high­er than it was dur­ing the last gov­ern­ment shut­down in 1996. When Gal­lup polled Amer­ic­ans then, just 17 per­cent lis­ted Wash­ing­ton’s prob­lems as the top is­sue for them. The budget and de­fi­cit were still the top is­sue, at 28 per­cent.

But will this con­cern last?

Last month, Syr­ia cap­tured peak in­terest at 8 per­cent, but now has fallen back down to 1 per­cent as the threat of U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion has faded. But this con­cern for the gov­ern­ment could last for sev­er­al months. In Septem­ber, 16 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans thought the dys­func­tion was the top is­sue. Now that num­ber doubled. Ad­di­tion­ally, ap­prov­al for Con­gress is just 1 per­cent­age point high­er than re­cord lows.

Amer­ic­ans have lost con­fid­ence in their polit­ic­al lead­ers. With the debt-ceil­ing dead­line just days away, and a pos­sible de­fault im­min­ent, the con­cern for Wash­ing­ton’s dys­func­tion could rise — along with deep­er con­cerns for the eco­nom­ic con­sequences of law­makers’ in­ac­tion.

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