The sentiment that Washington, and Congress, is broken is one of the biggest cliches going. At almost every turn of the recent debates over the ongoing government shutdown and debt ceiling comes a variation of this “Simpsons” clip: “Looks like those clowns in Congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns,” the talk-show host says.
An AP poll released Wednesday — with Congress’ approval at a ghastly 5%, its lowest ever — provided more fodder for those cliches. Politico’s Jon Allen joked that approval of Congress is “down to friends, family, and non-recreational drug users.” I tongue-in-cheekly asked for someone from the 5% to email me.
The truth is, though, that as a whole, congressional approval ratings don’t matter. Not at all.
There’s a simple reason why — though Congress as a whole isn’t popular as a whole, most of its 535 members are popular with their own constituents. That’s why Bloomberg found that there was a 90% re-election rate for members of Congress last year.
It’s also why both sides in the fiscal debates are increasingly digging in on their stances and refuse to budge. That’s especially true for Tea Party Republicans, who continue to demand significant changes to or defunding of Obamacare despite the fact that the GOP’s more pragmatic members realise that it’s not going to happen.
Why are they doing that? Their members want them to. 88% of Tea Party Republicans think that Obama should give into Obamacare changes before the federal government shutdown ends, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Moreover, only 23% of Tea Party Republicans say that raising the nation’s debt ceiling is “essential” to avoiding a crisis. 66% say that the U.S. can go past an Oct. 17 deadline without major consequences.
Tom Jensen, the director of polling for Public Policy Polling, frequently uses Congress as a punching line. PPP released a poll on Tuesday showing that Congress is less popular than hemorrhoids, toenail fungus, dog poop, among other things.
But Jensen explained to Business Insider why 5% approval ratings overall won’t spur members of Congress to grandiose ideas of “compromise.”
“Congressional approval polls measure frustration toward the body as a whole rather than their own representative,” Jensen said in an email.
“So even if people hate Congress in general, usually they either like their own member enough or are in a gerrymandered enough district that most members get reelected anyway. Most Republican voters who are unhappy with the House will still vote Republican next year and vice versa.”
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