Americans Don’t Trust Congress, Poll Shows

Posted October 21, 2010 at 3:20pm

In case the late-night comedians’ jokes and the anti-Washington ads that candidates are running weren’t enough evidence that Congress is held in low regard, here’s more: In a new poll, Americans give the legislative branch failing grades in transparency and trust.

That makes it the lowest of the low. Each entity of government studied — Congress, the White House and federal agencies and departments — scored lower than 50 percent approval in every category in the poll, which was conducted by Nextgov, a polling company of the National Journal Group Inc., and Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee Results.

But Congress took the most brutal beating and received the lowest score in every category, including trust, citizenship satisfaction, accountability and good will.

On a 100-point scale, Congress averaged 37 on transparency, with only 4 percent of respondents giving Congress an 80 or higher and four in five people rating it below 60. The White House, on the other hand, averaged 46 on transparency, with 11 percent of people giving it a score of 80 or higher and two-thirds of respondents rating it below 60.

Federal agencies and departments, often criticized as slow-moving bureaucracies, averaged 40 in transparency, 3 points higher than Congress.

“The executive branch is the only branch of government making any proactive or quantifiable attempt at transparency,” read the report released Thursday.

Congress averaged 26 in citizenship satisfaction, 14 points lower than the White House’s score of 40 and 6 points lower than the score of 32 for federal agencies and departments.

Respondents also ranked Congress last in terms of accountability, competence, goodwill and integrity. Goodwill and integrity were the legislative branch’s biggest shortfalls, according to survey results.

Although the White House and federal agencies are seen in a more positive light than Congress, transparency in all government entities is lacking, according to the 5,107 people surveyed. Almost half of respondents said they have less trust in government this year than last year, while only 10 percent said they have more trust this year.

After taking office, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies and departments to improve their transparency and accountability when he issued the Open Government Directive. But his efforts still have a ways to go: The White House received a below-50 average on every quality surveyed.

The government has “nowhere to go but up” in transparency, the study said.

According to Sarah Allen-Short of ForeSee Results, the study is the first conducted by the two organizations. Consequently, there are no results from previous years to compare with the current findings.

“We can’t say if Congress is up or down [in transparency] from last year,” Allen-Short said. “All we can say is that it is [ranked] lower than the White House.”