Both Nationally and Locally, Americans – Particularly Independents – Have Little Love for Congress

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – September 23, 2014 – We’re only weeks away from the midterm election, and if there’s one thing anyone following politics probably knows by now, it’s that Americans continue to have low opinions of Congress. What’s more, many Americans – particularly independents – seem to be pessimistic that the Senate and the House of Representatives can better address the country’s problems the next time around. Last month 8% of Americans gave Congress positive ratings and this month 7% do so, while 93% of Americans give them negative marks on the overall job they are doing.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,543 U.S. adults surveyed online between September 10 and 17, 2014.

    While Americans across political affiliations are disinclined to give Congress positive ratings, it’s Independents who are least likely to rate them positively: only 4% of Independents give Congress positive ratings, compared to 7% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats.

    Of course, Senators and Representatives don’t need to please the whole country – just their constituents. On that score though, only 18% of Americans give a positive rating for the overall job their member of the House of Representatives is doing, down from 22% in June. Independents are again the least enthused, with only 13% rating their Representative positively, compared to 20% of Democrats and 22% of Republicans.

    Middling midterm expectations

    Oddsmakers are hard at work laying out the likelihoods of possible outcomes for the midterm Congressional elections; currently the statistical edge is being given to the Republicans to hold the House and take the Senate, but a lot can happen in six weeks. So what would be best for the country, both overall and for moving forward on specific issues? Americans don’t seem to think ownership of the Senate and the House is likely to change much of anything. When asked which possible outcome (Republicans or Democrats sweeping both halls, holding as they are or making an even swap of it) would be best for progress in the state of the country in general and for an extensive set of issues, pluralities say that it makes no difference for most of the issues tested. What’s more, among Independents this is the top response across all issues.

    Some examples where makes no difference led responses for both Americans overall and Independents specifically include:

    • Political corruption (43% Americans, 51% Independents).
    • Race relations (35% and 42%, respectively).
    • Crime (34% and 40%, respectively).
    • Congressional gridlock (32% and 37%, respectively).

    But of course some Americans do believe it makes a difference who holds Congressional power, and some differences are apparent as to which party is seen as best suited to deal with certain issues. Looking specifically at selections of either the Republican or Democratic parties sweeping, and thus holding both halls of Congress:

    • Americans overall are more likely to select a Republican party sweep as the outcome most likely to lead to progress for crime-related issues, with 21% of Americans selecting a Republican sweep as the best option and 14% selecting a Democratic sweep.
    • Both U.S. adults overall and Independents specifically are more likely to choose a Republican sweep as the option most likely to lead to progress for conflicts in both the Middle East (Americans: 28% Rep sweep vs. 15% Dem sweep / Independents: 24% vs. 12%, respectively) and Eastern Europe (Americans: 25% Rep sweep vs. 14% Dem sweep / Independents: 22% vs. 9%, respectively).
    • As to what issues a Democratic sweep is seen as best for, both Americans as a whole and Independents specifically are more likely to choose this outcome as most likely to lead to progress for income inequality (Americans: 29% Dem sweep vs. 17% Rep sweep / Independents: 27% vs. 12%, respectively) and race relations (Americans: 24% Dem sweep vs. 14% Rep sweep / Independents: 21% vs. 9%, respectively).
    • Independents are also more likely to select a Democratic sweep as the outcome most likely to lead to progress in education, with 24% of Independents selecting a Democratic sweep as the best option and 13% selecting a Republican sweep.

    Expertise is expected on Congressional committees

    However the elections net out, one of the first tasks awaiting an incoming congress is parsing out appointments to specific committees and subcommittees on a wide variety of subjects. Given that many of these bodies wield no small amount of power, appointments are considered carefully – but how important is actual subject matter when it comes to getting a seat at one of these tables? And how important do Americans think it should be?

    According to an August Harris Poll, strong majorities of Americans see it as somewhat or very important that appointees have either experience or some other form of expertise on the committee’s topical focus. Looking specifically as the perception of experience or expertise being very important, the top area where a command of the subject matter is valued seems to be intelligence (with 73% of Americans rating it very important), followed by foreign affairs (69%), financial services (68%), education (68%) and armed forces (66%).

    Health/nutrition and science are the areas where Americans are most willing to flex on this, though it’s worth noting that half still rate it very important that appointed have subject matter expertise for these fields (49% for health/nutrition, 52% for science). For committees related to the environment, 57% of Americans see experience or expertise as very important.

    To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

    Want Harris Polls delivered direct to your inbox? Click here!

     


    TABLE 1a

    CONGRESS’ OVERALL JOB RATING

    How would you rate the overall job Congress is doing?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    POSITIVE

    7

    7

    10

    4

    5

    8

    6

    Excellent

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    Pretty good

    6

    6

    9

    3

    4

    7

    5

    NEGATIVE

    93

    93

    90

    96

    95

    92

    94

    Only fair

    33

    38

    28

    31

    33

    34

    27

    Poor

    61

    55

    63

    64

    61

    58

    67

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

     

    TABLE 1b

    CONGRESS’ OVERALL JOB RATING – TREND

    How would you rate the overall job Congress is doing?

    Base: All adults

     

    TREND

    Positive

    Negative

    %

    %

    2014

    September

    7

    93

     

    August

    8

    92

    July

    9

    91

    June

    10

    90

    May

    7

    93

    April

    7

    93

    March

    8

    92

    February

    8

    92

    January

    6

    94

    2013

    December

    5

    95

     

    November

    7

    93

    October

    4

    96

    September

    7

    93

    July

    9

    91

    June

    9

    91

    March

    6

    94

    2012

    December

    8

    92

    April

    11

    89

    March

    9

    91

    January

    6

    94

    2011

    December

    5

    95

     

    July

    8

    92

    May

    13

    87

    January

    16

    84

    2010

    December

    11

    89

     

    June

    14

    86

    March

    10

    90

    Jan.

    16

    84

    2009

    Dec.

    17

    83

     

    Oct.

    16

    84

    June

    25

    75

    March

    29

    71

    2008

    October

    10

    86

     

    August

    18

    77

    June

    13

    83

    February

    20

    76

    2007

    December

    17

    79

     

    October

    20

    77

    April

    27

    69

    February

    33

    62

    2006

    September

    24

    73

     

    May

    18

    80

    February

    25

    71

    January

    25

    72

    Positive = excellent or pretty good. Negative = only fair or poor.

     

    TABLE 2

    INDIVIDUAL MEMBER OF CONGRESS’ OVERALL JOB RATING

    How would you rate the overall job your Member of the House of Representatives is doing?

    Base: All adults

     

    Nov 2013

    Dec 2013

    Jan 2014

    March 2014

    June 2014

    Sept 2014

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    POSITIVE

    19

    20

    20

    21

    22

    18

    22

    20

    13

    20

    17

    17

    Excellent

    3

    4

    4

    4

    4

    3

    4

    3

    2

    4

    2

    4

    Pretty good

    15

    17

    17

    17

    18

    15

    18

    17

    11

    16

    15

    14

    NEGATIVE

    71

    69

    68

    68

    65

    70

    69

    68

    75

    71

    71

    69

    Only fair

    31

    31

    34

    34

    32

    36

    37

    35

    38

    34

    39

    32

    Poor

    39

    38

    34

    34

    32

    34

    31

    33

    37

    37

    31

    37

    Not familiar enough to rate

    11

    11

    12

    11

    13

    12

    9

    12

    12

    10

    12

    14

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3a

    MIDTERM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OUTCOME MOST LIKELY TO LEAD TO PROGRESS FORÉ

    Summary Grid

    Thinking about the upcoming midterm congressional elections, there are several possible outcomes for these institutions. Which of these possible outcomes do you believe would be most likely to lead to progress on each of the following issues?

    Base: All adults

     

     

    Makes No Difference

    Republican Sweep

    Democratic Sweep

    Party Swap

    No Change

    The state of the country in general

    %

    28

    26

    23

    5

    19

    Political corruption

    %

    43

    16

    13

    5

    23

    Race relations

    %

    35

    14

    24

    3

    25

    Crime

    %

    34

    21

    14

    4

    26

    Conflicts in Eastern Europe

    %

    33

    25

    14

    5

    23

    Congressional gridlock

    %

    32

    22

    18

    6

    22

    Conflicts in the Middle East

    %

    31

    28

    15

    5

    21

    Income inequality

    %

    31

    17

    29

    3

    20

    Education

    %

    29

    20

    26

    4

    21

    U.S. economy

    %

    26

    28

    22

    5

    19

    Employment/Jobs

    %

    26

    27

    24

    5

    18

    Immigration

    %

    24

    29

    23

    4

    19

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3b

    MIDTERM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OUTCOME MOST LIKELY TO LEAD TO PROGRESS FORÉ

    Summary Grid – Independents Only

    Thinking about the upcoming midterm congressional elections, there are several possible outcomes for these institutions. Which of these possible outcomes do you believe would be most likely to lead to progress on each of the following issues?

    Base: Independents

     

     

    Makes No Difference

    Republican Sweep

    Democratic Sweep

    Party Swap

    No Change

    The state of the country in general

    %

    35

    20

    18

    5

    21

    Political corruption

    %

    51

    9

    11

    6

    24

    Race relations

    %

    42

    9

    21

    4

    25

    Crime

    %

    40

    15

    12

    5

    29

    Conflicts in the Middle East

    %

    40

    24

    12

    4

    20

    Conflicts in Eastern Europe

    %

    39

    22

    9

    5

    25

    Congressional gridlock

    %

    37

    17

    17

    7

    22

    Income inequality

    %

    36

    12

    27

    4

    21

    Education

    %

    36

    13

    24

    4

    23

    U.S. economy

    %

    33

    23

    19

    6

    19

    Employment/Jobs

    %

    32

    21

    21

    6

    19

    Immigration

    %

    31

    23

    19

    6

    21

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3c

    MIDTERM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OUTCOME MOST LIKELY TO LEAD TO PROGRESS FORÉ

    Republican Sweep – Republicans gain control of the Senate and retain control of the House

    Thinking about the upcoming midterm congressional elections, there are several possible outcomes for these institutions. Which of these possible outcomes do you believe would be most likely to lead to progress on each of the following issues?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The state of the country in general

    26

    59

    5

    20

    54

    17

    4

    Immigration

    29

    61

    8

    23

    54

    22

    7

    U.S. economy

    28

    60

    7

    23

    57

    19

    7

    Conflicts in the Middle East

    28

    56

    7

    24

    51

    21

    8

    Employment/Jobs

    27

    59

    6

    21

    56

    17

    5

    Conflicts in Eastern Europe

    25

    52

    8

    22

    49

    18

    7

    Congressional gridlock

    22

    46

    7

    17

    44

    15

    6

    Crime

    21

    46

    6

    15

    40

    15

    6

    Education

    20

    47

    5

    13

    41

    13

    4

    Income inequality

    17

    36

    5

    12

    33

    12

    4

    Political corruption

    16

    36

    7

    9

    32

    11

    5

    Race relations

    14

    30

    4

    9

    29

    8

    4

     

    TABLE 3d

    MIDTERM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OUTCOME MOST LIKELY TO LEAD TO PROGRESS FORÉ

    Democratic Sweep – Democrats gain control of the House and retain control of the Senate

    Thinking about the upcoming midterm congressional elections, there are several possible outcomes for these institutions. Which of these possible outcomes do you believe would be most likely to lead to progress on each of the following issues?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The state of the country in general

    23

    4

    48

    18

    6

    23

    47

    Income inequality

    29

    12

    49

    27

    12

    29

    54

    Education

    26

    8

    48

    24

    9

    27

    52

    Employment/Jobs

    24

    4

    48

    21

    7

    24

    52

    Race relations

    24

    10

    43

    21

    7

    24

    50

    Immigration

    23

    6

    46

    19

    7

    22

    51

    U.S. economy

    22

    4

    46

    19

    6

    22

    49

    Congressional gridlock

    19

    5

    37

    17

    6

    18

    40

    Conflicts in the Middle East

    15

    4

    31

    12

    6

    14

    32

    Crime

    14

    4

    28

    12

    6

    13

    32

    Conflicts in Eastern Europe

    14

    5

    29

    9

    5

    13

    30

    Political corruption

    13

    4

    26

    11

    6

    12

    27

     

    TABLE 3e

    MIDTERM CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OUTCOME MOST LIKELY TO LEAD TO PROGRESS FORÉ

    Makes No Difference

    Thinking about the upcoming midterm congressional elections, there are several possible outcomes for these institutions. Which of these possible outcomes do you believe would be most likely to lead to progress on each of the following issues?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The state of the country in general

    28

    18

    23

    35

    20

    34

    23

    Political corruption

    43

    35

    39

    51

    37

    48

    39

    Race relations

    35

    34

    25

    42

    36

    39

    22

    Crime

    34

    25

    32

    40

    29

    40

    29

    Conflicts in Eastern Europe

    33

    23

    32

    39

    23

    39

    34

    Congressional gridlock

    32

    24

    28

    37

    26

    37

    28

    Conflicts in the Middle East

    31

    18

    30

    40

    24

    35

    32

    Income inequality

    31

    29

    24

    36

    33

    34

    19

    Education

    29

    23

    22

    36

    28

    33

    19

    Employment/Jobs

    26

    18

    21

    32

    19

    33

    21

    U.S. economy

    26

    16

    21

    33

    18

    33

    20

    Immigration

    24

    13

    22

    31

    19

    31

    17

     

    TABLE 5a

    IMPORTANCE OF EXPERTISE/KNOWLEDGE FOR CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS

    Summary Grid

    As you may know, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both include committees dedicated to the exploration and consideration of matters related to specific subject matters. How important do you believe it is that those selected for committees related to each of these subjects have applicable experience and/or subject matter expertise?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    SOMEWHAT/VERY IMPORTANT (NET)

    Very important

    Somewhat important

    NOT AT ALL/A LITTLE IMPORTANT (NET)

    A little important

    Not at all important

    Not sure

    Intelligence

    %

    90

    73

    17

    4

    3

    1

    6

    Foreign affairs

    %

    88

    69

    19

    6

    5

    1

    6

    Financial services

    %

    88

    68

    19

    6

    4

    2

    6

    Education

    %

    87

    68

    19

    7

    5

    2

    5

    Armed forces

    %

    85

    66

    20

    8

    7

    2

    6

    Environment

    %

    83

    57

    26

    11

    7

    4

    5

    Science

    %

    83

    52

    30

    10

    7

    3

    7

    Health/Nutrition

    %

    79

    49

    30

    15

    10

    5

    6

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 5b

    EXPERTISE/KNOWLEDGE IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS

    Summary of Very Important by Generation, Gender & Religiosity

    As you may know, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both include committees dedicated to the exploration and consideration of matters related to specific subject matters. How important do you believe it is that those selected for committees related to each of these subjects have applicable experience and/or subject matter expertise?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Religiosity

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen Xers (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Male

    Female

    Very/ Somewhat Religious

    Not Very/ Not at All Religious

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Intelligence

    73

    67

    69

    78

    83

    72

    74

    77

    67

    Foreign affairs

    69

    58

    67

    76

    86

    69

    69

    74

    63

    Financial services

    68

    66

    65

    71

    76

    66

    70

    71

    65

    Education

    68

    69

    67

    67

    71

    64

    71

    70

    65

    Armed forces

    66

    58

    63

    71

    78

    65

    66

    71

    58

    Environment

    57

    58

    54

    57

    57

    54

    59

    54

    60

    Science

    52

    50

    55

    53

    50

    57

    48

    49

    56

    Health/Nutrition

    49

    50

    50

    48

    49

    48

    50

    48

    51

     

    TABLE 5c

    EXPERTISE/KNOWLEDGE IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS

    Summary of Very Important by Political Party & Political Philosophy

    As you may know, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both include committees dedicated to the exploration and consideration of matters related to specific subject matters. How important do you believe it is that those selected for committees related to each of these subjects have applicable experience and/or subject matter expertise?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Intelligence

    73

    76

    73

    73

    74

    74

    69

    Foreign affairs

    69

    76

    70

    67

    74

    68

    65

    Financial services

    68

    70

    70

    66

    68

    70

    66

    Education

    68

    65

    75

    66

    61

    70

    74

    Armed forces

    66

    75

    62

    65

    74

    66

    55

    Environment

    57

    47

    66

    56

    45

    60

    66

    Science

    52

    47

    57

    53

    47

    53

    58

    Health/Nutrition

    49

    41

    58

    46

    38

    51

    59

     

    TABLE 6a

    KNOWLEDGE vs. STAFFING

    Summary Grid

    How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    Agree (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    Disagree (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    As long as a Congressional committee member has a good staff supporting them, it’s alright if they aren’t that knowledgeable about the topic.

    %

    25

    4

    21

    75

    34

    42

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 6b

    KNOWLEDGE vs. STAFFING

    Summary of Agree (NET) by Generation, Gender & Religiosity

    How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Religiosity

    Millennials (18-37)

    Gen Xers (38-49)

    Baby Boomers (50-68)

    Matures (69+)

    Male

    Female

    Very/ Somewhat Religious

    Not Very/ Not at All Religious

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    As long as a Congressional committee member has a good staff supporting them, it’s alright if they aren’t that knowledgeable about the topic.

    25

    32

    25

    21

    14

    30

    20

    22%

    28%

     

    TABLE 6c

    KNOWLEDGE vs. STAFFING

    Summary of Agree (NET) by Political Party & Political Philosophy

    How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Philosophy

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    As long as a Congressional committee member has a good staff supporting them, it’s alright if they aren’t that knowledgeable about the topic.

    25

    22

    27

    22

    25

    24

    26

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 10 and 17, 2014 among 2,543 adults (aged 18 and over). [Data pertaining to Congressional committees collected online within the United States between August 13 and 18, 2014 among 2,537 adults (18 and older)]. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

     

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

     

    The Harris Poll #88, September 23, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Director, The Harris Poll

    About The Harris Poll

    Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit the Harris Poll News Room.