Shortly after the government shutdown last year it seemed like everyone was talking about the abysmal approval rating of Congress. Here are a couple of examples:
It didn’t seem to matter what political party you were a part of, no one was happy with Congress. The approval rating by party for 2013 was something like this:
Democrats: 16% Republicans: 13% Independents: 14%
Impressive, since we had just elected all of these members of Congress in 2012. Not only did we elect ALL of these members of Congress who now had such a low approval rating, but we reelected incumbents at a rate of 90%. This was astonishing to me in 2012 because the approval rating at that time was only 17%
So what you’re telling me is that as a country, only 17% of America was happy with the job Congress was doing and still 90% of them got reelected. How does that work exactly? Why do we keep reelecting the same people over and over again, even though each time they get reelected we get less satisfied with the job they are doing?
Over the past 40 years, the highest approval rating Congress has received was a resounding 56% in 2001. Most years the approval rating doesn’t get over 40%. In contrast to that, since 1964, the reelection rate for Congress has NEVER dropped below 85% (it was 85% in 1970 and 2010).
This leads me to believe one of two things. Either we are like goldfish when it comes time to elect members of Congress and we have absolutely no long term memory, or we are happy with our representative…even though we aren’t happy with anyone else.
How can we be like goldfish? How can we not remember all the things that Congress did, or didn’t do in the time they had in office? Oh that’s right, because all we see are the commercials and campaign promises. We see stats on how our rep voted on certain issues that matter to us, and we make our choices based on a handful of votes made on an even smaller amount of hot topics. We never look for an alternative outside our party or outside of the mainstream media coverage. We don’t vote for idealists or people who are not part of the system because that would be throwing away our vote on someone who can’t possibly win.
Why can’t they win if they aren’t part of the system? They don’t have the money. You don’t win a Senate seat or even a House seat by grass-roots campaigning. You win with money. In 2012 the average Senate winner spent $10.2 million and the average for a seat in the House cost a measly $1.5 million. If you tell me that money doesn’t pave the way to Congress then you aren’t looking at the facts. If you think that you are truly voting your ‘conscience’ then you simply aren’t paying attention anymore. You’re voting for who you’re supposed to vote for based on the right commercials, the right phrases stated during the televised debates, and the right spin put on the candidate during the news.
If you say that this is not what is going on. You voted for your incumbent because you really like what they are doing and what they stand for, even though all the other members of Congress can’t do their jobs. So why did your rep still have to spend millions to get elected? If they are doing such a bang-up job, then why not let their record speak for itself? No one lets their job speak for them, they spend money to shout it from the roof tops and try to make their opponents look like crooks trying to ruin America.
There is a third option that is what most people will actually tell you is the problem. If they are a Democrat, the problem is the Republicans. If they are Republicans, the problem is the Democrats. If they are Independents, the problem is everyone else. That is actually the most consistent thing I have heard as I have traveled around the country. I have lived in WA, CA, OR, OK, AR, and NY. Some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative states in the country. No one thinks that the party they are a part of is really the problem. It is always the other guys that cause all the problems in Congress.
The Democrats feel that the Republicans are a bunch of rich white guys who are out of touch with America. The Republicans think that the Democrats are socialists trying to turn our country into a 1980′s USSR. If you’re an Independent then both of the other parties are corporate puppets. We are so polarized and convinced that our way is the only way that we will ever have a country worth living in is by electing people who share our party affiliation.
Real change won’t come from our elected officials. It will come from the people of this country reaching out and actually helping those that are around us. There are a lot of options out there, we just have to start looking for them. Mainstream politics/media will not point them out.