Voters: Congress is 'useless'

November 03, 2014, 3:30 PM GMT+0

Tens of millions of Americans are heading to the polls to choose who will represent them in an institution that is almost universally disliked and is widely seen as 'useless' and 'dysfunctional'

Today, America may vote to make a change in which party controls Congress. But the public’s main feeling in the days before the election is dislike for the entire institution and all its leaders. Likely voters aren’t even sure about whether or not their own Representative deserves re-election.

The latest Economist/YouGov Poll highlights the country’s sour mood about its legislative branch. The poll is full of negative assessments of Congress. Only 9% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job, not much different from the opinions Americans have held all along throughout this 113th Congress. But what is even more striking is how the public describes Congress. When asked to describe the institution in one word, the words are choice – negative, but choice, as illustrated by the word cloud of answers.

The words Americans use are almost entirely pejorative. Americans clearly see the institution as dysfunctional, partisan, and corrupt. But they focus even more on the institution’s inability to pass legislation: the most common word is “useless.” It’s hard to find a positive assessment in the cloud.

Although Americans have disliked Congress for a long time, recently Americans also have expressed annoyance at their own Representative. In this week’s poll, more disapprove than approve of their way their own Representative is handling his or her job. And the negative feeling is shared by both Republicans and Democrats.

There are many who are in between. One in five have mixed feelings about their Representative, and about the same percentage aren’t sure what they think. Likely voters are more likely to have opinions, and they are also negative. 32% of likely voters approve of their Representative’s job performance, while 40% do not.

The Congressional leaders of both parties fare just about equally poorly. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi look marginally better than their Republican counterparts, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, it is only because there are more people who identify as Democrats than as Republicans in the country. But all are viewed unfavorably, and the differences are small.

The House leaders are better known than the Senate Majority and Minority leaders. The House Speaker gets the highest negative evaluations.

When likely voters are asked whether their Member of Congress deserves re-election, they aren’t sure. Nearly as many say “no” as answer “yes.” And while Republicans and Democrats who say they are definitely or probably likely to be voting in the election think their Congressman deserves to be re-elected, independents do not.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.