If 83% of Americans agree…

I usually try to ignore things like political opinion polls, but the latest congressional approval ratings were all over Twitter. Apparently 83% of Americans disapprove of the job being done by Congress. If we begin with the assumption that consensus means something has gone terribly wrong, we should be very suspicious of these numbers.

Certainly it is in the benefit of the powerful for citizens to be frustrated with government in general, but why would the legislature, in particular, be singled out amongst the various branches of the federal government for scorn? To me, this is where most analysis is sloppy. Certainly disaffection amongst the majority of people allows the powerful to seek out their agenda unimpeded, but why would Congress be universally hated, while presidents tend to have higher approval in general and especially within their party? No one is afraid to call out their House representative when they vote for a bill that one disagrees with, yet Obama is allowed to get away with things that would send many Dems protesting in the streets if it was enacted by a Republican.

I’m not a historian, but it seems that these all-time lows in congressional approval ratings coincide with the increasing consolidation of power within the executive branch. Obviously W greatly expanded executive power, approved by Congress through the Patriot Act, which Obama has also seized upon, going even further than W in many (most?) cases. The legislature is, at least theoretically, the most democratic branch of the government, and, perhaps most importantly, is the most flexible (the House could theoretically be completely turned over every 2 years). By shifting power from the legislature to the executive, we are creating a government that is both less dependent on and less accountable to the will of the people. Through blaming Congress for all the government’s ills, we contribute to the ideology which allows the freedom of the powerful to be expanded while the power of the many is under attack.

What do you think dear readers?

3 thoughts on “If 83% of Americans agree…

  1. I would gather that there’s also something to be said for the problem of division here. Much like teachers, congress-persons tend to be disliked in the abstract or as a group, but if you polled the popularity of singular representatives, the results would likely fall along partisan lines similar to that of the president. Old-fashion American distrust of bureaucratic state apparatuses (somehow believed to be of an altogether separate genus from other power-groups) is another important culprit, I think.

  2. Right, we tend to approve of our own representative at a higher rate than Congress in general, but I don’t think there’s the same desire to obfuscate their failures when our rep does something that we disagree with, unlike at the level of the executive. Surely there’s something telling about that difference.

  3. Here in Peru we got a similar situation, the difference is that congressional approval rating has been like that for the last three decades. Dissaproval goes between 85 – 90%. Former president Fujimori took advantage from this and did a self-coup in 1992. He shut down the congress and called for new parlementary elections. With a new congress on his side, he made a new constitution according to his will. Nowadays, the congress is one of the weakest (if not the most) institution in the country. Congressman reelection rates are really low, only about 20% of the congressman are reelected (parlemantary elections are held every five years). This causes that most of the congress is filled by opportunists who seek personal profit, instead of real politicians. The executive branch is strong, but not necessarily the president and his party but the long term bureaucrats who direct the economy policies in the country. It’s like it didn’t matter if people choose one or another party, there isn’t a real change.
    I’m not saying all this is going to happen in USA but i thought it might be interesting to share the experience of a country with a really weak congress.
    If anyone is interested in further readings, there’s a good piece by political scientist Alberto Vergara about this issue (it’s in spanish) http://www.revistargumentos.org.pe/alternancia_sin_alternativa.html

Comments are closed.