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8 Reasons Why Just 8% of Americans Approve of Congress

by Jane Susskind, published
Is it a coincidence that on the same day

Gallup reports a record-high number of Americans identifying as politically independent, Rasmussen reported that congressional approval ratings are at historic lows?

The number of Americans who think Congress is doing a "good" or "excellent" job has now dropped to 8 percent. While polling numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, this draws attention to a national trend. Americans increasingly feel as though their representatives do not represent them.

As Congress returns to session, here are 8 possible explanations for why Congress is so unpopular among Americans:

Less than 60 bills were signed into law in 2013, making the 113th Congress one of the least productive Congresses in modern history. In 2014, Congress is scheduled to work just

113 days of the year. That's roughly 30% of the entire year and 13 days less than they worked in 2013.

"While members of Congress claim that these long recesses are “district work periods,” often times these periods are spent campaigning or doing little real work for Americans, leaving the long nights and weekends to staff members, who, to their credit, work very hard," Wendy Innes reports.

Despite cutting 13 working days out of their calendar, their salaries will remain the same. Federal lawmakers receive a salary of $174,000 per year ($3,346 per week) plus full benefits.

"The average median household income for a worker with full-time employment was $776 per week during the second quarter of 2013.," Innes continues.

For the first time, over half of lawmakers are millionaires. The Center for Responsive Politics reported on their personal financial disclosure data from 2012 and found that 268 are worth $1 million or more.

The full report can be seen here.

Americans don't dislike Congress because most members are rich. Americans dislikes Congress because they feel like most members of Congress don't listen. 

And maybe they're right. In a system where less than 10% of voters participate in party primaries and over 90% of elections are decided in the primary, candidates don't have to listen to their constituents to win.

While a record-high number of Americans no longer identify with either of the two major parties, 99.6% of Congressmembers do.

While a

record number of women were elected to Congress in 2012, women remain under-represented in our nation's capital. Some believe that women, in fact, could lead to more consensus in Congress.

"Differing leadership styles and views of power versus their male counterparts have also led to greater participation, with an emphasis on cooperation and teamwork." Read more

For example, after the 16 day government shutdown, Congress applauded their willingness to compromise.

"Today, the eyes of the world will see Congress reach a bipartisan, historic agreement to reopen the government," Senator Harry Reid tweeted. Compromise is not "historic"; it's part of their job.


But before we get ahead of ourselves pointing fingers solely at Congress, let's remember that in a true Republic, Congress is only as good as the people it represents. How can we expect Congress to engage in a productive manner if we don't first change our own political discourse?

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