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Dissatisfaction with Congress matches record

Voters slightly more critical of Republicans

By Allison Kopicki
New York Times / September 17, 2011

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NEW YORK - Congress faces historically low approval ratings as it wades into the debate over the $447 billion jobs package proposed by President Obama, with just 12 percent of Americans approving of the way it is handling its job, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The approval rating for Congress matched its all-time low, recorded in October 2008 at the height of the economic crisis.

Voters were slightly more disapproving of Republicans in Congress than they were of Democrats. Just 19 percent approved of Republicans in Congress, compared with 28 percent that approved of their Democratic counterparts.

Republican voters were more dissatisfied with their party representatives than are Democrats.

Half of Republican voters said they disapproved of Republicans in Congress, while 43 percent of Democratic voters said they disapproved of Democrats in Congress. Independents were slightly less approving of congressional Republicans than congressional Democrats.

Only 6 percent of registered voters said most members of Congress had earned reelection, while 84 percent said it was time to give someone new a chance, a historic low for the New York Times/CBS poll.

Dissatisfaction with Congress ran deep across both parties, with more than 8 in 10 of Republicans and Democrats saying it was time to elect new representatives.

In follow-up interviews, partisanship and bickering were given as major reasons for respondents’ disapproval of Congress.

Nancy Lewis, a retiree living in San Clemente, Calif., said she has seen a slow degradation of the political system from when she grew up during the era of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon.

“While there were vigorous debates and some filibusters, generally, 40-some years ago there was more cooperation,’’ she said. “Congress used to be able to compromise and come together to make decisions after a period of discussion.’’

A Democrat who grew up in conservative Orange County, in a family where politics were discussed often, Lewis said she and her friends lamented what is happening to Congress. “Now I think that many Congress members are in it for the individual glory, they’re in it for themselves, and not for the citizens of the United States,’’ she said.

Just 33 percent of voters said their representative in Congress deserved to be reelected, and 57 percent said it was time to elect someone else - another record level of dissatisfaction.

Democratic and independent voters were slightly more frustrated with their representatives, with about 6 in 10 of each saying it was time for a new person. This was not entirely surprising, with Republicans in control of the House. But nearly half of Republican voters also said their representative did not deserve reelection. “They all seem great when they go out on the campaign trail - and then when they get in, they turn into a regular politician. They all tell us what we want to hear,’’ said Steve DeMayo, a maintenance technician in Raymore, Mo.

DeMayo, a Republican, was disappointed with politicians’ disconnect from their constituents and wanted a candidate who had successfully run a business or had other real world experience. “They get persuaded by the almighty dollar and don’t listen to the American people about health care or abortion or gun control or immigration laws,’’ DeMayo said.

The current dissatisfaction with Congress may or may not point to another “change’’ election in 2012. The 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections were considered to be referendums on voters’ disapproval with things in Washington. But for some, like Lewis, another election may not change anything in the nation’s capital.

“Politics was part of my life, and now it’s just extremely disappointing,’’ she said. “Genuinely concerned citizens who go to the voting booth don’t have any choices. They have to decide between the lesser of two evils, and that’s a pathetic place to be.’’

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll was based on nationwide telephone interviews conducted Sept. 10-15 with 1,452 adults, of whom 1,356 are registered to vote. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for both groups.

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