Frustration With Congress Reigns Supreme: Bring on the Midterms

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The Congressional Management Foundation released a report in September of 2013 outlining findings on job satisfaction in Congress. This is admittedly a particularly ironic set of data to examine given the unfriendly political sentiments being directed at the legislature across the country right now. But it’s interesting to consider the positive numbers shown in this report — older data from 2011 — and reflect on just how much they’ve likely changed given ineffectiveness and general commentary from members of Congress in the last year.

The report showed that, generally, congressional staff tended to show more positive work satisfaction than average U.S. employees, though interestingly fell short when asked if they felt continually “plugged in at work” as though “always on full power,” and when asked if they are “almost always completely focused on … work projects” while at work. One of the most positive engagement behavior statements reported from congressional staff was in overall agreement with the statement that, “My office never gives up” — ironic, given the stubborn head-to-head opposition that led to the standoff two years after this report was made.

“At first glance, Congress is not an attractive place to work. Staff typically work exceedingly long, unpredictable hours that leave little time for outside activities; receive lower pay than both private sector and federal executive branch staff; work in cramped quarters with no privacy; exercise minimal control over their work schedules; and have virtually no job security,” reads the organization’s report from back in 1995. Since then, and since even the 2011 data was gathered, it’s safe to say we can now add “everyone hates you” to the list of negatives. Hyperbolic perhaps, but polling data over the course of the last year seems to suggest hyperbole isn’t far from the truth — as you can see from Now This News’ “DC Mean Tweets,” or other manifestations of the public’s irritation like “Drunk Dial Congress.” So, given the last few years, it’s interesting to consider how frustrations within Congress have built.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

As recently resigned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor discussed in an interview with The Hill back in 2012, Congress is frustrated too. But from his perspective, at least at the time, “brinkmanship, gamesmanship, one-upmanship” seen in Congress are simply the nature of the game. “Ultimately, this is part of the legislative process,” said Cantor back in 2012. “I understand people’s frustration, I really do. I mean, there’s … a lot of people who’ve lost hope right now … I know it’s frustrating. I live it.”

He’s not the only one living the frustration. Many will remember the particularly confrontational and angry clash in March between House Oversight Committee Chair Darren Issa (R-Calif.) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) over the IRS scandal, as shown below from CBS.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is: a split Congress is an angry Congress, and so far, evidence points to an ineffective Congress. This is hardly shocking or unknown, but interestingly, despite frustrations with the lack of action and successful legislation from Congress, Americans don’t seem particularly set on one party taking control in Congress. A Gallup poll in May reported that 32 percent of voters preferred one party control of both houses, while 36 percent stated a desire for split party control. A separate poll showed that the number one reason listed for dissatisfaction with congressional performance was “party gridlock/bickering/not compromising,” suggesting, according to Gallup, that while Americans are frustrated with the lack of activity, they are wary of polarized single party control going to far to one side unchecked.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Finally, a June 16 poll showed that just prior to Midterm elections, respondents are showing at or near record lows in congressional approval, at 16 percent. This is the lowest shown prior to elections as far back as 1974, which showed 35 percent approval rating, and at which point Gallup‘s available data stops. Since that time, the closest to current levels the approval has reached was in 2010 when it hit a low of 21 percent. The year 2010 also saw 15 percent of House incumbents facing elections voted out of office — hardly a positive sign. The second lowest approval rating, in 1994, showed a similar pattern.

In other midterm election comparisons, the numbers aren’t quite at the bottom, but they are low across the board. President Obama’s approval rating is lower than all previous years except G.W. Bush’s second term, and his own midterm period in 2010. Satisfaction with the “way things are going in the United States” is the lowest it’s ever been, with the exception of 2010 — though only a point ahead of satisfaction in 1982.

What this ultimately points to is a lack of trust in general with politicians. There is clear and obvious dissatisfaction with Congress at present in record breaking amounts. Americans want action, yet don’t necessarily trust either party to be moderate enough in policy making, leading them to slightly prefer a split Congress. The last term has shown this to mean a gridlocked Congress, but pessimism seems to be the go to response either way.

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