Harvey H. Jackson: Now for a word about Congress
Mar 13, 2013 | 3568 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My buddy John is a sociologist.

He also is a historian.

It is an uncommon combination, which means John keeps up with, and even understands, data and surveys and polling, which most historians don’t. Aware of this shortcoming among the rest of us, John frequently sends folks like me interesting tidbits that come in a package we can understand.

I appreciate that.

Recently, he sent me the results of a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) that caught my eye, as he knew it would.

The headline demanded further reading:

“Congress Less Popular than Cockroaches, Traffic Jams”

Yessir, the folks at PPP surveyed 830 American voters, asked them a bunch of questions, things I never would have thought of, like, “What do you have a higher opinion of: Congress or the Kardishians?” The answers they got turned up all sorts of fascinating things.

The poll began simply enough. Those polled were asked, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Congress?” Only 9 percent replied “favorable.”

PPP could have stopped right there, but instead, survey in hand, the pollsters polled bravely ahead, asking questions that were more probing and specific and revealing.

The PPP discovered, for example, that those surveyed held a higher opinion of Congress than of telemarketers and liked Congress more than they liked lobbyists, North Korea and Ebola. However, those polled freely admitted that if forced to choose between Congress and Genghis Khan or Donald Trump, they would pick the leader of the Mongol hoards and the guy with the bad comb-over.

You could tell from the questions being asked and the comparisons being drawn that PPP was surveying a broad audience made up of educated folks who could venture informed opinions on whether they liked Congress more than Fidel Castro, Nickelback and Lindsey Lohan.

The people polled also were politically diverse. A quarter of them told the pollsters they considered themselves to be very conservative, while another 25 percent said they were merely moderate. The remaining half were scattered among very liberal (13 percent), somewhat liberal (18 percent) and somewhat conservative (19 percent) — pretty balanced, if you like balance.

The sample was also neatly split between men and women, young and old and in between, as well as Democrats and Republicans. The only imbalance was that the sample was 66 percent white, roughly the same percentage that had a higher opinion of brussel sprouts than of Congress (the significance of which you can decide for yourself).

Now, let me pause here and say I have a grudging admiration for anyone who will run for public office. I grew up in a political family — sheriffs and a circuit clerk — so I know how difficult, indeed impossible, it is to make voters happy. (In one election, more people liked the other guy than liked my daddy, which only goes to show you how ignorant the citizenry can be.)

So it is hardly surprising that according to the survey some folks would have a more favorable opinion of playground bullies than members of Congress, though from the way congressmen act, I suspect many were once bullies on the playground.

These comparisons were made with the 112th Congress, which adjourned in January. It was, by most estimates, exceptional in its lack of productivity — although the 113th, which is meeting now, looks like it might just break that record.

Because the 112th accomplished so little, the people polled reported a higher opinion of root canals, colonoscopies and cockroaches than of the senators and representatives who gathered in Washington to do the people’s business.

Friends, I sorta feel sorry for those folks who, collectively, are so roundly disliked by the people who should be proud of them for doing what they do.

But on the other hand, because the poll deals with the Congress as a body and not congressmen individually, it is possible for the respondents to think that someone else’s congressman is less admirable than, say, NFL replacement referees, while believing that their own congressman is preferable to meth labs or Communism.

It always is the other guy who is the problem.

Still, it must be troubling to the men and women who go out on the campaign trail and convince voters that they are not just preferable to the other guy but also preferable to gonorrhea (which the poll revealed Congress is). Victorious, they then go off to Washington full of hopes and ideals, only to find themselves belonging to a group that citizens find less appealing than cockroaches.

That has to hurt.

For as we all know, you are judged by the company you keep.

But look on the bright side, more people like Congress than like the Kardashians — though not by much.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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