Reading on reason.com recently, I came across a link to this poll (2nd item, “Negative Words for Congress”) done by the Pew Research Center on the public’s impression of Congress. The results are, to put it mildly, less than favorable. While we all know that Congress’ approval ratings are perennially in the dumps, what fascinates me is people’s specific complaints. In particular, the difference between what I would delineate as structural complaints (those having to do with the nature of Congress as a body) versus performance complaints (those having to do with Congressmen as legislators).
The structure of the poll was fairly simple; 749 people were asked to “provide the one word that best describes their current impressions of Congress.” Given the wide variety of possible responses, the results were fairly scattered, but Pew published the list of the top 19 responses and their respective counts, totaling to 240 of the 749. Splitting these into structural, performance, and neither, the totals become 111, 86, and 43, respectively. Or, in more useful form, 46% of complaints are structural, 36% are performance, and 18% can’t be classified.
This reveals, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding of why Congress is built the way it is. Congress is supposed to be “dysfunctional.” It was designed under the idea that a legislative body so fractious would be incredibly difficult to operate without strong agreement across its members, and therefore (in theory) across the nation and the populace. Hence, the rights of the minority would be protected, and the consent of the governed would be required. That Congress sometimes can’t seem to get anything done is something we should be grateful for. I for one sleep better when Congress isn’t in session.
Though the 46% number above is hardly a rigorous statistic, I feel it signals a certain ignorance about, or at least disagreement with, the basic foundations of our republic. I can’t help but worry for the future of our country if 46% of us believe the problem is that Congress isn’t doing enough.
Notes on methodology: For the above breakdown, I counted the following complaints as “Structural”: Dysfunctional, Inept, Incompetent, Ineffective, Sucks, Gridlock, Slow, Messy. The following were “Performance”: Corrupt, Self-serving, Lazy, Crooks, Disappointing, Idiots. The rest I didn’t feel could easily be classified: Confused, Bad, Poor, Lousy, Terrible.