Finding common ground, but only in dissatisfaction.

Finding common ground, but only in dissatisfaction.

Who says the American electorate can’t find common ground?  In the latest NBC/WSJ poll*, we see it across several measures.  Indeed, when it comes to the topic of Congress, there is a good deal in common across both the partisan divide and congressional districts.

Let’s start with the public’s assessment of Congress overall. This month, Americans give Congress the absolute worst job approval rating since tracking began on this question in 1994 (12% approve, 83% disapprove)!

Next, consider how voters react to whether they think their own member of Congress deserves to be re-elected or it’s time to give a new person a chance.  Just about one-third (32%) say they are willing to renew the contract on their Congressional Representative, while 57% say it’s time for change.  The results of this question have only been worse a handful of times – in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 2010.

Then, there’s another “customer satisfaction” measure where we see an all-time high of 57% of voters saying that if there were a place to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including your own representative,” they would do it.

And, on all of these measures, look at the remarkable agreement in the table below between self-identified Republicans and Democrats, and within Republican and Democratic congressional districts.

 chart 1

But, finding common ground in dissatisfaction with Congress is where the agreement ends.

The irony is that while many Americans are fed up with what’s going on (or not going on) in Washington, DC, their own politically divided views and diagnosis of the problem is a major contributing factor.

When asked for the primary couple of reasons they are unhappy with the performance of government in Washington, partisan identification has a major bearing on Americans’ responses and is the lens through which they see the issue, as the chart below illustrates.   The majority of self-identified Republicans complain about Obama’s policies while a majority of self-identified Democrats say the problem is partisanship.

chart 2

Additionally, members of Congress say they are doing their constituents’ bidding, and when you consider that in the House just 16 Republican-held seats  are in districts that Obama carried, and only nine Democratic-held seats are in districts Romney carried, you realize there is little incentive for either side to bow to the other party’s bidding.

Moreover, voters show little sign of moving off their partisan positions, either.  Voters in this month’s NBC/WSJ poll are tied with 44% saying they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress and 44% saying they would like a Democratic-controlled Congress.  Looking at that result by the current House seats held is almost a mirror image:  Among Republican-controlled seats, voters choose a GOP-controlled Congress 54% to 37%.  Among Democratic-controlled seats, voters opt for a Democratic-controlled Congress 57% to 31%.

Thus, as long as Congress and the voters who elected them are as divided as ever in their views, the outlook for policy compromise and a pick-up in legislative activity remains fairly bleak.

*NBC/WSJ national survey of N=1,000 adults, conducted July 17-21, 2013.