5 Ways Americans Want to Fix a Broken Congress

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Polarization, partisanship, and gridlock are all the congressional rage these days, or at least, all the rage on Congress anyhow. The midterm elections are still waging onwards, and what party the Senate majority falls to matters now more than ever. So far, expectations have been that Republicans retain the house and Democrats scrape by with the Senate, but recently even the Senate looks to be in a much more precarious position for Democrats. Between FiveThirtyEight, The Washington Post, and others, Republicans are looking at more promising polling. That said, The New York Times has a bit more optimism for Democrats pocket books.

With the election still raging, and the American public polling particularly low ratings for Congress’ job approval, everyone is looking for a solution — and judging from a collection of verbatim poll responses from Gallup, a lot of Americans’ preferred answers fall along the same lines of thinking. Let’s take a look at the often conflicting but generally similar thought processes, and add a dose of realism in while we’re at it.

1. One-Party Congress

While respondents obviously differed on which party they aligned with, many answers called for stronger control in one party or the other. “Elect all Republicans in the Senate,” said one, and “let the Democrats vote and decide which is right, because Republicans are holding everything up” said another. It was not so very long ago — May, in fact — that Gallup‘s polls showed 32 percent preferring on party control in the Senate and House, while 36 percent preferred party control split between the houses.Twenty-four percent felt that it would make no difference.

While the set of answers provided from the phone poll are hardly quantifiable or specific to the congressional split — many didn’t address this — it wouldn’t be surprising to find that as gridlock has continued, and in cases worsened in the legislature, more and more would like to see a power in the hands of a single party to avoid head to head conflict. At this point, if one party control were to take place, it would inevitably be Republicans, and while that would likely end with more bills pushed through both houses, it would also likely ramp up the number of presidential conflict with the legislature — i.e. the president stack of vetoes would grow a little taller.

2. Cooperation

“Get more moderates in there,” one respondent suggested; “more cooperation on both parties, less extreme views” said another. Cooperation between the parties, individuals representatives, and senators, is a less cynical solution offered by some. Many assume that gridlock is unavoidable between the parties at this point, so the same party holding the majority in both houses is necessary to bypass headbutting. Based on current evidence, cynicism may be closer to reality than Senators are to cooperating. As is pewresearchtableAdmittedly, part of the problem in the past year has been proximity to elections, or then later, a result of campaigning that’s been ongoing. Nothing drives partisan split more than fighting with the enemy for your job. After elections are behind us, conditions for cooperation may have improved, but on some issues, if better cooperation was possible, it’d likely already have taken place. On other subjects, such as immigration, the problem doesn’t lie solely with a partisan split, but with Republicans’ current relationship with President Barack Obama.

Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images

Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images

3. President Barack Obama

“Negotiate more, to have better relationships with the White House, Congress, and Senate,” suggests a Gallup pollee. “Get rid of Obama” and “impeach the bum” were also given, conflicting with “[Congress] should probably listen to the president.” Either way, Congress is intrinsically linked to the presidency; presidential approval acts as a determinate of congressional elections for Democrats; willingness to enact legislation is dependent upon trust across government branches; and overall efficiency of the government requires cooperation beyond simply collaboration.

Those respondents calling for Obama’s removal are likely referring to two things. The first: House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) claim that immigration reform cannot be passed because Republicans do not believe Obama will enforce their laws. The second: Boehner’s ongoing effort to bring a lawsuit against the president, while not directly an attempt at impeachment, has upped the impeachment rhetoric considerably. Unsurprisingly, dissatisfaction with Congress is rather linked with general dissatisfaction with government as a whole.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

4. Fresh Faces

One of the more common suggestions called for a complete replacement, or partial replacement of lawmakers. “Kick out the incumbents,” suggested many, phrasing ranging from “vote them out, get new ones,” to “fire every one of them and re-elect new ones,” to “well-placed dynamite.”

Unfortunately, this solution only looks good on paper, since statistically incumbents are far more likely than others to be re-elected to their seats. It’s one of those regrettable phenomenons that regardless of the dissatisfaction, incumbents statistically tend to fare better than new names on the scene. Still, back in 2010, when Gallup put approval in Congress at 21 percent, 15 percent of the House incumbents facing elections were voted out of office.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. Term Limits

Finally, demanding “term limits,” or some variant of that phrasing, was particular common as well. Given the partisanship standoffs and pre-election freeze ups term limits do indeed have an appealing ring to them. Term limits would might help to get legislatures out of the polarized party rut.

But term limits could also have some downsides. Firstly, depending on the timing, they wouldn’t completely dispose of partisanship, they’d simply shorten the lifespan during which it could occur, and would alter the internal dynamics of the party. Secondly, in some cases it would reduce the ability of voters to chose representatives they prefer, and in better times than this it could conceivably reduce opportunities for cross party alignment and the building of trust over years of working together.

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