Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested members of Congress should get paid more, but a majority of Americans want the complete opposite

Tom Williams/Getty ImagesRep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a congressional hearing.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the salaries for members of Congress should be increased to ease the financial burden on members and to curb the incentive to cheat.
  • But, according to an INSIDER poll, 55% of Americans think Congress should get a pay cut.
  • Just 9% of people agree with Ocasio-Cortez and think lawmakers should get a raise.
  • Studies show that increasing pay for government officials can decrease corruption.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat who has taken Congress by storm, recently advocated for a salary bump for Congress. But a majority of Americans actually want to see lawmakers’ pay get cut.

Ocasio-Cortez first brought attention to the finances of lawmakers after the midterm elections with stories about her own financial struggles during the transition period between the election and the swearing-in of the new Congress.

The New York progressive again drew attention to the pay on Capitol Hill by announcing that staffers in her office would make at least $US52,000, well above average.

In a tweet on March 13, Ocasio-Cortez went even further, arguing for an increase in lawmaker pay. Ocasio-Cortez said that “raising staffer pay helps get money out of politics” and that increasing the salaries for members of Congress could do the same.

“Members are paid more than avg – but job reqs 2 residences + we can’t take tax deductions for work costs,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “No one wants to be the one to bring up increases, so instead ppl take advantage of insider trading loopholes & don’t close them for the extra cash.”

Ocasio-Cortez seems to have been responding in part to a rash of scandals involving members of Congress taking extra benefits. On the Republican side, Rep. Chris Collins was charged with insider trading and Rep. Duncan Hunter was accused of using $US250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

For Democrats, Sen. Bob Menendez was cleared of corruption charges in 2017 after being accused of accepting gifts from a wealthy doctor in exchange for political influence.

All three won reelection in 2018.

Also to Ocasio-Cortez’s point, studies have shown that higher pay for government officials can reduce corruption and increase lawmakers’ responsiveness to constituents.

But while the freshman representative may have an academic case to support the idea, the political case for boosting congressional salaries is not strong, according to a new INSIDER poll.

We asked people whether they thought Congress made too much, just enough, or too little. A majority of Americans disagreed with Ocasio-Cortez. We found that:

  • 55% of respondents want congressional salaries to be cut. These people agreed with the statement, “I think that generally legislators are paid too much given the work they do, and their salaries should be cut or curtailed until their performance improves.”
  • 17% of respondents thought congressional salaries were just right. These people agreed with the statement, “I think the annual salary paid to Congress is just fine where it is.”
  • 9% of respondents want to increase congressional salaries. These people agreed with the statement, “Increasing the pay of members of Congress make them less susceptible to corruption by ensuring they’re financially secure and don’t need to abuse their office to make ends meet.”

Nineteen per cent of respondents were unsure or did not feel that any statement represented their view.

Read more: Ivanka Trump reportedly used a workaround to get access to Air Force planes after being rejected. 68% of Americans surveyed think someone who uses the same workaround should be punished.

While a majority of Americans think members of Congress get paid too much, their concept of what Congress members already make is much lower than lawmakers’ actual salaries. The poll then asked a fill-in-the-blank question, “In dollars, about how much money do you estimate a member of Congress earns in salary per year?”

The median guess for a Congress member’s salary in the INSIDER survey was $US132,500, well below the $US174,000 lawmakers make. The trimmed average, which shaves off the lowest 5% and highest 5% of responses, similarly came in at $US139,445.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents estimated a number higher than the actual salary, while 64% guessed a number lower than $US174,000.

So in addition to most Americans disagreeing with Ocasio-Cortez and thinking Congress should be paid less, the public thinks lawmakers already make less than their salaries.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,178 respondents collected March 16-17, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.07 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

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