- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ethics news hangs heavy in Washington’s winter air, stoked by congressional Democrats charging Republicans represent a “culture of corruption.” It’s a treacherous allegation, loaded with possible electoral implications if true. Problem is, in the minds of most voters, Democrats are full-fledged members of the same culture.

In the most recent American Survey (800 registered voters conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, 2005, margin of error 3.5 percent), we asked several questions about recent corruption and ethics allegations in Washington. First, current news from Washington about ethics comes as no surprise to most voters — 74 percent say it is what they “expect from people involved in politics.” Second, a 52 percent majority say it has “no impact” on their support for their representative in Congress. And while 25 percent say it makes them “less likely” to vote for their congressman, 20 percent say the news actually makes them “more likely” to support their representative. Finally, when asked which party they think recent charges of ethics violations apply to, 75 percent of voters say “both parties equally.” Findings on all three questions vary little across demographic categories.

Apparently, in the minds of most voters, ethical misconduct — alleged or real — is just politics as usual in Washington. And with good reason. ABSCAM, the Keating Five and the House bank scandal are just a few of the better known bipartisan congressional indiscretions over the past two decades. And given the media’s affection for trumpeting alleged political corruption, it’s no wonder voters think Washington is ethically challenged.

Yet despite a history of ethics wrongdoing — today and in the past, alleged and real — voters still believe their own member adheres to high ethical standards and deserves re-election. It’s always easier to disparage a faceless institution than your own representative in Congress.

Americans see Congress for what it really is: a collection of imperfect individuals, including some who make wrong decisions from time to time. But they are not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water, and they hold their own representative in relatively high esteem. This view is not fundamentally different from what they see in corporate America, in our schools, in religious institutions and in the media. Citizens seem to comprehend, despite the media’s obsession with corruption and the Democrats’ rhetoric, that human imperfection extends well beyond the Capitol’s hard granite walls. Maybe voters understand that reality better than voracious reporters, breathlessly hunting the next congressional peccadillo and tomorrow’s front-page story.

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