Being a member of Congress must be the greatest job on earth.
It pays well. There are a lot of perks. You are powerful and influential.
And besides, no matter how petty, how shortsighted, how callous, how deaf you may be to the opinions and needs of your constituents and your country, chances are pretty good you will be re-elected.
More on that later. First, let’s explore just how the American people view this august body.
A survey conducted just this past week the Public Policy Polling firm found that Congress is less popular than hemorrhoids, jury duty and toenail fungus.
Which is high praise for a bunch of political mud wrestlers who have shut down the government while making sure they still get paid. And they may yet may boot a recovering economy back into recession.
These new results indicate a slight decline from a poll taken at the beginning of the year that suggested Congress finishes in second place to cockroaches, traffic jams and Brussels sprouts.
Want more? Congress doesn’t stack up well at all compared with other governmental institutions, a Public Policy report says. There may be long lines at the DMV, but voters still have a higher opinion of it than Congress by a 58/24 margin. Jury duty might disrupt your work week, but people will still take that over Congress by a 73/18 spread.
Perhaps worst for Congress is that it actually manages to lose out to the IRS 42/33 — there’s a big partisan divide on that one, with Democrats taking the IRS 59/23, but Republicans taking Congress 48/25.
But it’s not all bad news for Congress. It’s at least still more popular than serial killers (56/18 over Charles Manson), foreign enemies (51/22 over Syria, 49/28 over Vladimir Putin), and controversial celebrities (46/31 over Miley Cyrus, 42/33 over Honey Boo Boo, and 40/36 over Lindsey Lohan).
What’s even more astounding is that the Public Policy poll found that 8 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the job that Congress is doing.
We can only assume that these folks are isolated wilderness dwellers, close family members of the elected or, as one wag suggested, non-recreational drug users.
So throw the rascals out, right? Well, not so fast.
According to one school of thought, these rating polls simply don’t matter. Tom Jensen, the director of polling for Public Policy Polling, was quoted in Business Insider as saying that low 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.
“So even if people hate Congress in general, usually they either like their own member enough ... so that most get re-elected anyway. Most Republican voters who are unhappy with the House will still vote Republican next year and vice versa.”
There are other factors to consider, of course. A major one is that most congressional districts are gerrymandered to favor the incumbent. Short of a felony rap, your elected representative ain’t going anywhere.
The other is that political memory is notoriously short. That gives members of Congress plenty of time to press the flesh and bring home the bacon after this current crisis, no matter how infuriating it may seem, goes away.
To look at it another way, we are unwitting witnesses to history.
According to the Gallup polling organization, Congress is well on its way to averaging below 20 percent approval for the fourth year in a row, and for the fifth year in the last six. The exception was 2009. That year, newly elected President Barack Obama was working with a large Democratic majority, which resulted in high approval among Democratic identifiers.
Prior to 2008, Congress had averaged below 20 percent approval in only two of the 31 years for which Gallup had data, 1979 and 1992.
Meanwhile, the rest of world looks on in disgust:
In Great Britain, the BBC said, “... Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many ...”
In Germany, the Zeit newspaper blamed a “handful of radicals,” stating, “A small group of uncompromising Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives are principally responsive for this disaster. They are not only taking their own party to the brink, but the whole country. Unfortunately the leadership of this party has neither had the courage nor the backbone to put them in their place.”
The last and best assessment comes from the French. Le Monde called the shutdown “grotesque” and on its editorial page, dramatically lamented, “Jefferson, wake up, they’ve gone crazy!”