Thomas McNeill for Congress

Utah's 3rd Congressional District

Why vote for Thomas McNeill and the United Utah Party?

by Thomas G. McNeill, 4 October 2020

The abysmal approval rating of Congress

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I vote for Thomas McNeill and the United Utah Party?” To answer that question, I need to give you some background.

To begin, let me ask you another question — do you approve of the job that Congress is doing? If you answer “no” to that question, you are not alone. The approval rating for Congress has not exceeded 31% for over ten years. The high of 31% came this year in May of this year because there was a brief surge of approval as Congress was passing coronavirus relief measures, but in general approval of Congress hovers around 20%. In November of 2013 it was 9%.

Surprisingly, approval ratings for individual members of Congress are much higher. In some sense, this is not surprising — they win elections, after all. But why the big disconnect between approval for individual members of Congress and Congress as a whole?

What has caused Congress’s approval rating to decline?

It was not always this way. At one point in my lifetime, the two major parties were able to work together. They always had vigorous disagreements over policy, but in their personal relationships, members of Congress got along with each other for the most part. When action was needed, there would be spirited debate and political maneuvering, but in the end a compromise would be worked out. Whoever was in the majority would have a greater influence on the outcome, of course, but the minority party contributed to the final result.

Over time, members of Congress have become much more partisan and confrontational. Things have gotten to the point that members of both major parties seem much more interested in promoting their own party and denying the other party a victory than they are in the welfare of the country as a whole.

The fault is not all with Congress. Congress simply reflects growing polarization in the country as a whole. 1994 was the year that the public first became aware of the Internet in a big way. With 500 channels of television and social media on the Internet, people can now choose to consume news, information, and opinions exclusively from sources that match their views. This has a polarizing effect on society and is the most likely cause of more extreme candidates winning the nominations for their respective parties at a greater and greater rate.

Why do individual members of Congress have high approval ratings, but Congress as a whole does not?

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 decades.

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.

Vote for the party, not the person

In the past, people would proudly say, “I vote for the person, not the party.” And back then, it made sense. The parties were not very far apart on most things, and members of Congress would cross party lines to vote when they felt it was important. That seldom happens now.

Today, it makes more sense to vote for the party, not the person. If you are happy with the way that Congress works, then by all means vote for the candidate of one of the major parties. If that candidate wins, it will be more of the same. It really does not matter much if the major party candidate is a nice and reasonable person or a partisan extremist — the result will be the same because the major party leadership controls the way that Congress operates.

Perhaps at some future time the major parties will moderate their behavior. But in the short run, the only real hope for change is for the country to start electing people who do not belong to the major parties.

The United Utah Party is about pragmatic, effective government, not obstruction and division. Once in Congress, I will fight for the best possible results for people of Utah. If that means compromising on policies, but not principles, so be it.

For most of the difficult issues of the day, such as the financial health of Social Security, health care, immigration, use of excessive force by police, and so on, there are reasonable compromise policies that could be worked out and meet the approval of the majority of Americans. Those are the things that I will work for once I am in Congress.

Please vote for me so that I can put Utah’s and the nation’s interests first in Congress.

SEE ALSO Congress and the Public [congressional approval ratings].