In the last decade, congressional support hasn't been high. A recent Gallup poll found that 52% of Americans view the legislative branch as corrupt, and 79% say members of Congress are out of touch.
With waning support and a government shutdown looming, these figures won't likely rise anytime soon. However, most Americans believe their own representative is better off, with 48% believing he or she is corrupt.
"Majorities of Americans view most members of Congress as corrupt, beholden to special interests and out of touch. This is not new and perhaps not even surprising, given the low esteem in which Americans hold the institution," Gallup reports.
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe the U.S government in general suffers from widespread corruption, up from 67% in 2007.
One might argue that this cynical disapproval stems from a lack of government knowledge, along with a citizenry that is just tired of an unproductive legislative branch. However, another Gallup poll found that the more knowledgeable a person was about the U.S government, the less they approve of it.
Gallup asked the following questions in their poll:
- Do you happen to know how many U.S. senators there are from each state?
- Would you happen to know which chamber of Congress -- the House of Representatives or the Senate -- is responsible for confirming federal judges?
- For how many years are members of the U.S. House of Representatives elected -- that is, how many years are there in one term of office?
- Do you happen to know which political party -- the Democratic or Republican -- currently has the most members in the U.S. House of Representatives?
- And do you happen to know the name of the majority leader in the U.S. Senate
Gallup then related the number of questions answered correctly to the person's approval of Congress. Of those who answered none correctly, 29% said Congress is doing a poor job while 27% said "Excellent/Good." Only 7% of those who answered 4 to 5 correctly believe Congress is doing a good or excellent job, indicating a strong correlation between knowledge of government and disapproval of it.
What baffles many is that despite historic-low approval ratings, Congress has a near-perfect re-election record every election cycle. In 2014, Congress had an approval rating that peaked at 14 percentage points, yet counting the incumbents who lost in the primary, the re-election rate was 95.9 percent.
Yet, when looking closer at the issue, this is not really that surprising. If we believe that Congress is not representative of the electorate at large, then we have to ask if the process by which they are elected is representative of the people.
Over 200 years of gerrymandering have carved electoral districts to heavily favor one party or the other, leaving only a handful of competitive seats. Current election laws in most states are designed to put private corporations ahead of voters, disenfranchising tens of millions of voters in the process.
Public opinion of Congress has mostly remained the same over the last few years, with some small shifts in the numbers here and there. If Americans want to see real change in Congress, then that change needs to begin at the source of our representative democracy -- elections.