Why do individual members of Congress have high approval ratings, but Congress as a whole does not?
by Thomas G. McNeill, 4 October 2020
This post is part of a larger series. Full series in one document: Why vote for Thomas McNeill and the United Utah Party?
[Summary of previous post: Members of the major parties band together in Congress, not so much to work for the good of the country as a whole, but to promote their party and deny the other party a victory.]
So why do voters approve of individual members of Congress, but not Congress as a whole? Most districts these days are “safe,” meaning that one major party or the other is almost guaranteed a win. The winning candidate is popular with the voters in his or her district because he or she represents their views. But even though they are often pleasant people, they have to play by a different, perverse set of rules once they arrive in Congress.
If a member of Congress wants to have any influence within the party, he or she must play the party’s game, which is to deny victory to the other party. Compromise is considered to be treason. Anyone who steps out of line is shunned by the party and opposed in the next primary election.
Thus, individual members of Congress are popular with the voters in their own district, but in Congress they contribute to the dysfunctional system that works mostly for the party and not for the country as a whole. This is why, even though Congress has known for many years that the Social Security trust fund is running out of money, nothing has been done about it. This is why one party sets one health care policy and then the other tries to dismantle it. This is why there has been no significant action in Congress on immigration in over a decade.
The most consequential vote a member of Congress takes is at the start of a two-year session when they vote for Speaker of the House. Once they have cast that vote, they will typically not stray for the rest of the session. And if that vote is for the leader of one of the two major parties, it is a vote for continued dysfunction and division.
That is why Congress has an approval rating of 20% on a typical day.