Are Politics Standing in the Way of Congress?

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According to Gallup, when the 113th U.S. Congress began its first session on January 3, it had an approval rating of just 14 percent. A full 81 percent of Americans actively disapproved, a historically high share that was only topped by the 83 percent disapproval rating earned in March. This year to date, Congress has averaged an approval rating of just 15 percent, down from 17 percent in 2012 — both record years since at least 1974.

When asked what Congress is doing that is so bad, 59 percent of Americans will instead tell you what Congress is not doing that is earning politicians record scores for failure. According to a separate Gallup survey released in June, “party gridlock/bickering/not compromising” was the leading reason people disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

While it’s easy to hate on partisan politics, it’s hard to quantify it. However, that hasn’t stopped the Pew Research Center from taking a stab at it. Recently released data from Pew show that not only is partisan polarization at an all-time high, but the divide between policymakers has helped create one of the least productive Congresses.

Data published by Pew in July show that congressional Republicans are more conservative and Democrats are more liberal than ever before. The political divide between the two has increased dramatically over the past few decades in both houses but is most notable in the lower house. The cause, unsurprisingly, is largely a function of an increasing political divide between the voters themselves — one leads to the other, after all.

In Congress, this divide translates into a failure to reach compromise, which is a roadblock to actually getting anything done. Additional data compiled by Pew show that the number of substantive bills passed by each Congress has generally trended lower since the 106th, in 1999-2000. The 112th Congress passed 208 substantive bills.

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