People are less dissatisfied with the performance of the United States Congress in 2018 than the year prior, according to a survey by the Indiana University Center on Representative Government, but that might be faint praise.
The center elicited the views of 29 academics across the country about the job performance of lawmakers in the second session of the 115th Congress. The survey was conducted after the 115th adjourned in early 2019.
"The Congress is not rated well, or even moderately well, but it's viewed less negatively, on the whole, than it was in 2017," said survey director Edward G. Carmines, Distinguished Professor, Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science and Rudy Professor at IU.
Carmines said that one reason for the noticeable uptick in the experts' evaluation of Congress from 2017 to 2018 are accomplishments such as passing legislation to reform the federal criminal justice system and passage of a farm bill -- both measures that drew bipartisan support.
Although the tax-law overhaul was pushed through by the Republican majority after a polarizing partisan debate, he said that many still count it as a legislative achievement.
The survey showed year-to-year improvement on Congress' performance in the following areas:
- 34 percent of experts gave the House of Representatives a grade of D or F for its business process, an improvement from 68 percent in 2017.
- 45 percent graded the Senate's business process D or F this year, compared to 53 percent in 2017.
- 75 percent of the experts gave the House's level of compromise a D or F this year, up from the 92 percent in 2017.
- 28 percent gave legislators' use of facts and data in decision-making a D or F, noticeably improved from the 52 percent in 2017.
- 24 percent of the experts gave Congress a D or F for letting political games-playing cause conflict in the legislative process, down from 39 percent in 2017.
- 32 percent rated Congress D or F for exercising its role in determining the federal budget, compared to 41 percent in 2017.
Carmines said that in spite of these improvement, failings like the longest partial government shutdown in history and stalemates on comprehensive immigration reform and health policy led experts to judge the institution harshly in other areas.
Members of Congress should lead the way in returning our democracy to its traditional approach of coalition-building across diverse groups of people.Lee Hamilton, senior advisor for the IU Center on Representative Government
"The experts are, on the whole, still very negative in their evaluation of Congress," Carmines said. "It's still a pretty dim picture."
The survey showed a deterioration of satisfaction in Congress' performance in the following areas:
- 83 percent gave the legislative record of Congress over this past year a D or F, worse than last year's 76 percent.
- 69 percent graded Congress' ability to protect its powers from presidential encroachment a D or F, compared to 61 percent in 2017.
Carmine said the House was judged particularly harshly in three areas: the role that members of the minority are allowed to play, on keeping excessive partisanship in check, and on following a legislative process with the proper level of compromise.
"We live in a time of persistent polarization and declining trust: in politicians, in institutions, in one another," said Lee Hamilton, who served 34 years in the House and is now a distinguished scholar at IU and a senior advisor to the Center on Representative Government. "Members of Congress should lead the way in returning our democracy to its traditional approach of coalition-building across diverse groups of people."
Mike Sample, IU vice president for public affairs and government relations and director of the Center on Representative Government, also acknowledged the importance of bipartisanship in Congress.
"We must reject partisan hostility and be willing to work across the aisle," Sample said. "Everyone should be included in the public dialogue and treated respectfully."
This year marks the 13th annual Experts' Survey on Congress conducted by the Center on Representative Government. Data on Congress' performance in 2018 was collected online in January and February 2019.