I have always known that congressional approval ratings are something of a red herring. The body itself always polls poorly, while individual Representatives and Senators fare far better. “My congressman is a Saint and a Prince among men, and I should get on my knees and thank him every single day for lowering himself into that cesspool so I am represented by an honorable man in that warren of thieves, weasels and assorted miscreants…people like your congressman. He’s a polecat and a crook and embodies everything that is wrong with Washington today, and the SOB should be indicted before lunch.”
I happen to be able to say that with a straight face because my Congressman is The Honorable Emanuel Cleaver II, while the districts that surround his are represented by the veteran crook Sam Graves, the ideologue Lynn Jenkins and tea party freshmen Kevin Yoder and Vicki Hartzler. Talk about an island of reason and sanity in a stormy sea of stupid…I can always, always count on my Congressman to do the right thing.
So yes, Congress is always unpopular, and always will be. But it has never been this unpopular in my entire life, since the New York Times and CBS started asking the question in 1977, when I was in eighth grade AP Civics class and starting to pay attention to politics.
A record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job – the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977, and even more than after another political stalemate led to a shutdown of the federal government in 1995.
More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.
Republicans in Congress shoulder more of the blame for the difficulties in reaching a debt-ceiling agreement than President Obama and the Democrats, the poll found.
The Republicans compromised too little, a majority of those polled said. All told, 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.
The debt ceiling fiasco has dealt some heavy body-blows to Congress, especially the House of Representatives. People who are expected in their own lives to act like grownups and play by the rules were appalled by the representatives who looked more like a special-ed kindergarten for kids with behavior disorders than a legislative body. When Paul Broun said he had introduced legislation to lower the debt ceiling (How the hell would that work, anyway? How do you unpay bills?) we crossed from comedy to farce and America knew it. That’s why congressional approval is only 18%.
President Obama fares far better, with a statistical tie of 48/47 approval/disapproval.
The president’s overall job approval rating remained relatively stable, with 48 percent approving of the way he handles his job as president and 47 percent disapproving – down from the bump up he received in the spring after the killing of Osama bin Laden, but in line with how he has been viewed for nearly a year. By contrast, Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, saw his disapproval rating shoot up 16 points since April: 57 percent of those polled now disapprove of the way he is handling his job, while only 30 percent approve.
Americans said that they trusted Mr. Obama to make the right decisions about the economy more than the Republicans in Congress, by 47 percent to 33 percent. They were evenly divided on the question of whether he showed “strong qualities of leadership” during the negotiations, with 49 percent saying he did and 48 percent saying he did not. And they were still more likely to blame President George W. Bush for the bulk of the nation’s deficit: 44 percent said that the deficit was mostly caused by the Bush administration, 15 percent said it was mostly caused by the Obama administration and 15 percent blamed Congress.
The big losers in the whole mess, at least for now, are tea partiers.
The public’s opinion of the Tea Party movement has soured in the wake of the debt-ceiling debate. The Tea Party is now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of the public and favorably by just 20 percent, according to the poll. In mid-April 29 percent of those polled viewed the movement unfavorably, while 26 percent viewed it favorably. And 43 percent of Americans now think the Tea Party has too much influence on the Republican Party, up from 27 percent in mid-April.
“I’m real disappointed in Congress,” Ron Raggio, 54, a florist from Vicksburg, Miss., said in a follow-up interview. “They can’t sit down and agree about what’s best for America. It’s all politics.”
There were signs that the repeated Republican calls for more spending cuts were resonating with the public: 44 percent of those polled said the cuts in the debt-ceiling agreement did not go far enough, 29 percent said they were about right and only 15 percent said they went too far. More than a quarter of the Democrats polled said that the cuts in the agreement did not go far enough.
Of course, what is missing here is where we want to see cuts made — how convenient. But poll after poll shows that we want to spend less money on guns and more on eduction, nutrition assistance, public health, transportation, onfrastructure…things that lift up Americans rather than things that blow up Iraqis and Afghanis and Pakistanis and Yemenis and Libyans and Somalis and whoever pisses someone off next week. You get the idea — we’re sick of the Pentagon parasite.
Overwhelmingly, we want Congress to make with getting us back to work. Fully 2/3 of us want a jobs plan and we want it yesterday. While polls say we want spending trimmed, it trails far behind concerns over jobs.
Also interesting to note is that half of those polled wanted tax increases as part of the deal and only 44% thought cuts alone was enough. It’s starting to look like Americans realize that tax cuts for the rich not only don’t help the rest of us, but actually inflict harm, because just under 2/3 of those polled want taxes raised on those who earn more than $250,000 per year. When 52% of self-identified republicans want taxes on the wealthy raised, watching the republicans run on tax cuts next year ought to be entertaining.