Yesterday, The Politico reported on a just-released Rasmussen poll that gauged approval ratings for Congress. The polling firm found that the public’s view of Congress’ work continues to slide. For the first time ever, a Rasmussen poll has found that the percentage of Americans who say Congress is doing a good or excellent job has slid into single digits. It found that only 9 percent have high opinions of the House and Senate, down from 11 percent last month. As The Politico reports, the numbers are somewhat deceiving. When we add in the percentage of those who responded that Congress’ performance was “fair” (36 percent), we’ll see that 45 percent responded that Congress was doing at least a fair job. But still, the poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe Congress is doing a poor job of addressing their needs. And as The Politico quotes Rasmussen, it’s “impossible to overstate the general level of cynicism people feel about Congress and the functioning of government.”
The Politico quotes Brookings scholar Thomas Mann as saying that most Americans are busy with their own lives and don’t follow Congress closely. Thus, they don’t have a good idea of what Congress is up to. Plus, when a story about Congress does break into their consciousness it usually deals with “failures or examples of scandal or corruption, of filibusters or failure to act on legislation or campaign fundraising conflicts.”
How do members of Congress reverse this trend? There’s an easy answer. By being more open and transparent Congress can remedy this widening breach with America. Lawmakers should engage citizens with the new tools of the Internet, making voters realize that they have a say and a part to play in their democracy. Information is the currency of democracy. Transparency in the work of government is an invaluable step towards establishing public trust.
In Congress’ first two centuries, it was difficult if not impossible for citizens to see what elected representatives, government officials and the professional lobbyists who seek to influence them were up to. Today, however, no technical obstacles exist preventing us from actually knowing who is giving what to whom and why. The question now is whether government will open itself up, or if we the people will open it from below.
And one more thought: Let Our Congress Twitter. (to be continued….)