America to Congress: You Suck!

Gridlock and ineffectiveness give Congress worst rankings in decades.

As a rain moves in, the Capitol building is reflected in the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 13, 2011, as budget negotiations continued.  (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A bit of news for members of Congress on their way home for the weekend: America hates you.

Nearly eight in 10 Americans told Gallup pollsters this month they disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, the 45th consecutive month that more than two-thirds of Americans graded Congress poorly.

The problem isn't as much what Congress is doing as what it is not getting done. Fifty-nine percent of the disapproving Americans cited partisan gridlock and ineffectiveness for their thumbs-down.

Fewer than 30 percent cited performance on specific issues or ethics.

It gets worse.

Gallup's 40-year study of the public's faith in U.S. institutions found that the percentage of people expressing confidence in Congress has dropped to 10 percent. For the fourth straight year, the first branch of government ranks last on a list of 16 institutions.

Congress's ranking is the worst Gallup has ever found for any institution it has measured since 1973.

Churches, businesses, the media, labor unions, and schools — people are losing faith in virtually every social institution that made America great, a dangerous decades-old decline explored by National Journal a year ago ("In Nothing We Trust").

Gallup puts Congress at the bottom of a decrepit barrel.

"The divided Congress, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans the House, is likely part of the reason for the low levels of confidence rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans express, and is tied to Americans' frustrations with Congress's inability to get much done," the Gallup study concluded.

Gridlock has many causes. First, House districts are drawn by politicians to protect incumbents, creating a situation where only hyper-conservative Republicans and staunchly liberal Democrats survive most party primaries. The rise of the tea party has particularly radicalized the GOP.

The Internet has polarized and democratized new media, enabling voters to limit their information sources to those that cement their partisan views. Polarized voters push Congress to extremes, making Americans both opponents of, and a cause of, gridlock.

Finally, the Democratic White House and GOP-controlled House lack leaders able and willing to craft compromises. President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and their partisan choruses rarely even discuss ways to find common ground, much less find any.

In this era of partisanship, it is safer to demonize than to compromise.

Obama's job-approval rating is hovering near 50 percent, a sign that voters tend to blame Republicans a bit more than Democrats for gridlock. It is too soon to conclude whether the recent spate of controversies involving the White House will affect the public's view of Obama. His relatively high numbers may also may be a reflection of the esteem Americans hold for the office of the presidency.

Not so for Congress.