National Confidence Ratings For Congress Don’t Matter When It Comes To The Budget

Stan Collender

You would think that this poll showing “Americans’ confidence in Congress is not only at its lowest point on record, but also is the worst Gallup has ever found for any institution it has measured since 1973″ would be so embarrassing to those on Capital Hill that they would take immediate steps to change the situation.

You would be especially justified in thinking that it would change congressional behavior on the federal budget. Although the poll doesn’t say it, there’s no doubt in my mind that the constant and highly publicized “I’m-gonna-hold-my-breath-till-I’m-blue-in-the-face” fights over the deficit, debt ceiling, and annual budget resolution haves been the biggest factors in this totally failing grade for the House and Senate.

But it won’t. Particularly when it comes to the budget it’s not likely to change congressional behavior at all.

There are two reasons.

First, with the House and Senate controlled by different political parties, Democrats and Republicans will blame the other for the poll results rather than do anything to fix the problem. That’s why we’ll continue to see ridiculous legislative proposals like the “No Budget, No Pay Act” and the “Pay Your Bills or Lose Your Pay Act” which are designed to embarrass rather than get anything done.

Second, and far more important as far as the budget is concern, national samples like the one in the Gallup poll make increasingly less difference to House members who increasingly represent one-party congressional districts that are extremely unlikely to be competitive in the general election.

For these one-party districts, the broader voting population in the general — the one that more closely resemble the national sample in the poll — is largely irrelevant. Instead, it’s the much narrower…and usually more extreme…voters in the primary whose opinions truly matter.

This means that a 10 percent overall congressional confidence rating because of repeated failures on the budget are of no consequence to a member of Congress whose primary voters would rather have a stalemate than a compromise even if it creates economic problems for the country as a whole. For these primary voters, compromise would actually lower their rating of Congress even further.

As a result, the Gallup results, which would embarrass the rest of us so much that we would be making immediate changes in our behavior, will have no impact on Congress whatsoever.

And that means that the highly dysfunctional (and that’s giving it the benefit of the doubt) federal budget debate won’t change at all because of it.

Originally posted at Capital Gains and Games.

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