Last modified: Monday, June 16, 2003
National study by IU's Center on Congress reflects critical view of Congress
The public believes members of Congress will lie if it is politically expedient, according to a comprehensive national study by the Center on Congress at Indiana University Bloomington.
Members of the House and Senate were criticized in several areas in the 2002 survey conducted through the IU Center for Survey Research. The survey was partially funded by the Representative Democracy Project in America through the U.S. Department of Education.
More than 86 percent of those responding agreed either strongly or somewhat with the statement that members of Congress will tell lies if they feel the truth will hurt them politically. Nearly 80 percent agreed that members of Congress spend more time trying to get re-elected than doing work in the House and Senate.
"Our findings show that many citizens have negative perceptions about how Congress actually does its work," said Edward Carmines, research director for the center and Rudy Professor and Warner O. Chapman Professor of Political Science at IUB.
Other negatives regarding Congress included nearly 70 percent of the respondents believing that "House and Senate members spend all their time bickering instead of cooperating" and nearly 60 percent believing that public officials don't really care much about what the public thinks.
Carmines said the survey of public perceptions about members of Congress and Congress as an institution did include some positive findings. "In summary, many citizens believe that they are well represented by Congress, that the work of Congress is important, and that it affects their daily lives," he said.
The findings showed that nearly 88 percent of the respondents believe that at least some of the work of Congress impacts their daily lives, more than 75 percent believe that their own representative does a good job, and some 75 percent believe that members of Congress work hard.
Carmines said the survey, which included an additional sampling in the 50 most competitive congressional districts, is the most comprehensive ever completed on the role of Congress in American politics. It involved a random probability sample of 1,500 Americans responding over the telephone to questions. The complete survey involved 130 questions and took those answering about one hour to finish.
These findings are the second in a series of reports titled "Exercising Citizenship in American Democracy." The first report covered public understanding of the organization of Congress, and a future report will cover public attitudes toward congressional policies.
The Center on Congress, located on the Bloomington campus of IU, has the goal of improving public understanding of Congress. The center is directed by Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman. Hamilton said this study "will add greatly to our understanding of how citizens perceive and evaluate Congress, including its role in our representative democracy."
The center's Web site is at http://congress.indiana.edu.