- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Voters are remarkably optimistic about the new Congress during its formative days — particularly given the public’s historically jaded opinion of this legislative institution — viewing the new Democratic majority more as agents of change than protectors of the status quo. Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic House colleagues face a challenging paradox. On one hand, Americans want reforms and reject business as usual in Washington. On the other, citizens object to the hardball legislative procedural tactics often necessary to bring about these transformations. How Democrats treat this chronic problem will determine whether they can cure Congress’ persistent popularity disorder and whether the current level of optimism continues.

According to the most recent American Survey (800 registered voters conducted Jan. 26-29), a strong majority of voters believe Democrats’ control of Congress translates into a new direction for the legislative branch. When we asked respondents if they think “Democrats having control of Congress will mean changes in the way things work in Washington or business as usual,” 59 percent answered “changes,” while 39 percent picked “business as usual.” Not surprisingly, self-identified Democrats expect change by a wide margin (71 percent to 26 percent), while Republicans split 50-50 on the same question. Independent voters are about as divided as Republicans, with 52 percent saying the new majority will bring about change and 46 percent predicting business as usual. Self-identified moderates are more optimistic, with 62 percent saying Democrats will bring about change. Women are also more positive than men by about a 12-point margin.

Yet despite these high levels of optimism, Democrats’ early procedural moves don’t draw high marks. Many Republican lawmakers had noted that on the six major bills that the House considered during its “First Hundred Hours Agenda” earlier last month, they did not have input into the drafting of the bills and did not see the legislation until it came up for a vote. When we reminded voters that the new majority “promised to include Republicans in the legislative process” but “have excluded Republicans and refused to let them see legislation before it comes up for a vote,” they reacted negatively by an overwhelming margin. Seventy-nine percent said Democrats are wrong to exclude Republicans, while only 16 percent said Democrats are right to do what they want as the majority party. Voters agree regardless of party identification, with 93 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents and even 66 percent of Democrats objecting to procedures that leave out the minority party.

These results underscore the skeptical gaze Americans cast toward the legislative sausage-making process. Voters appear optimistic that Democrats will produce change in Washington, yet they don’t like some of the procedural moves necessary to achieve some of their goals. Getting results and realizing process fairness don’t always go hand in hand in democracy. Sometimes the majority has to step on some toes in the dance of legislation. And over the long term, effectuating change probably trumps process fairness in winning the hearts and minds of Americans.

Americans tend to abhor the legislative sausage-making process, but they always favor successful outcomes.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide