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Congress now comically contemptible

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“How you doin’?”
“Compared to what?”

It’s an old throwaway line for comics, but the “compared to what” question gives fresh insight into just how unpopular the US Congress has become.

No surprise that Congress is held in low regard these days. Low productivity alone would justify public disdain— the 112th Congress passed fewer bills than any other Congress but one.

To that fecklessness, add recurring partisan games of chicken on Capitol Hill that have hurt economic recovery and a culture that values posturing more than achievement. Small wonder that Congressional approval ratings have hovered in the teens and low 20’s.

In the wake of the “fiscal cliff” debacle, Public Policy Polling says approval is down to 9%, and then asked a series of comparison questions that show how angry folks are at their representatives.

What do you have a higher opinion of: Congress or lice? 19% chose Congress, 67% preferred lice.

Congress also stacks up poorly against:

  • NFL replacement refs (56-29%)
  • Root canals (56-32%)
  • Carnies (39-31%)
  • Cockroaches (45-43%)
  • Used Car Salesmen (57-32%)
  • Brussel Sprouts (69-23%)
  • Colonoscopies (58-31%)
  • Traffic Jams (56-34%)
  • France (46-37%)
  • Genghis Khan (41-37%)

In fairness, the people’s Representatives did prove more popular than some diseases (gonorrhea, ebola virus), Communism and some of its adherents (Fidel Castro, North Korea), some societal scourges (meth labs, telemarketers, playground bullies) and some celebrities (the Kardashians, Lindsay Lohan).

Bottom line—Congress is still more popular than philandering liar John Edwards, but lags behind wealthy but vacuous blowhard Donald Trump.

First off, hats off to Public Policy Polling for a very clever survey. The pollsters must have had a blast coming up with a list of reviled people/things to compare to Congress, and I can’t imagine that most of the 830 Americans polled weren’t giggling through most of the automated telephone questions.

Still, it was giggling through clenched teeth. Ill will toward Congress cuts across party lines, expressed by more than 80% of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. The breakdowns, or cross-tabs, suggest that:

  • Unlike a lot of issues, though, Congress evokes the most malice in the middle. Often, moderates seem angrier with Capitol Hill than those who describe themselves as either ultra-liberal or very conservative. Moderates prefer cockroaches, carnies, France, Lindsay Lohan, and Genghis Kahn to Congress, in contrast to “the ultras”.
  • There are some odd “gender gaps”. The Lindsay Lohan/Congress comparison shows men preferring Lohan (45-44%), women choosing Congress (47-36%). And you’d think women would really despise John Edwards, who cheated on his dying wife. Well, they do prefer Congress, 40-33%, but men are much harsher on Edwards, preferring Congress 50-26%.
  • Political pundits are only slightly (37-34%) more popular than Congress overall, but while Democrats (50-29%) and Independents (38-27%) give pundits the edge, Republicans just hate them, preferring Congress by a 44-22% margin.
  • Republicans still suffer a severe case of Francophobia, as well, perhaps left over from French unwillingness to back the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. GOP poll respondents prefer Congress to France by a 15-point margin, while Democrats and Independents give a 20-point edge to Congress.
  • Democrats have a similar reaction to Donald Trump, preferring Congress to Trump by 26% (57-31%). Republicans (58-34%) and Independents (44-29%) like the Donald better.

Could Congress sink lower? Absolutely. A looming fight over the debt ceiling could further damage the economy and yield meager results, just as the fiscal cliff imbroglio did.

And while anger at Congress seems heaviest on the conservative side of the political spectrum, Republicans continue to be blamed for the fiscal cliff fiasco. Rasmussen Polls, which does surveys for Fox News, now finds that the Republican edge on economic stewardship has disappeared.

In the poll released today, 47% think Democrats are best able to deal with economic problems, 41% prefer Republicans. Just a month ago, Republicans had a two-point edge on that issue.

Consider Congress forewarned— keep it up, and you can still give North Korea and the Kardashians a run for their money.

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