It isn’t exactly news that Americans don’t particularly like Congress. If you review an average of poll numbers, only 18 percent of Americans approved of congressional performance as of April 2018 (which is an improvement from a low of about 10 percent late in 2017). Only one month since October 2012 has congressional approval topped 20 percent; you have to go all the way back to 2009 to find approval above 30 percent, and the last time approval topped 50 percent was back in 2002, several months after a slow decline that followed congressional approval hitting an all-time high of 84 percent in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. If you break poll numbers down by party there are still no real surprises – neither party is particularly popular (again, approval in the 20 percent range or lower), but in particular Republicans think Democrats in Congress are awful and Democrats think Republicans in Congress are doing a terrible job. And yet, despite all of this dissatisfaction, every two years somewhere around 90 percent of congressional incumbents are re-elected, often without much opposition.
There are numerous reasons for this: gerrymandering, hardened party-line support, lack of desire for change (despite always demanding something better), incumbents so entrenched that there’s no viable opposition. Beyond these though, there is the issue that despite an overall dislike of Congress, most people have a much more positive view of their own representatives, with typical approval ratings somewhere around 50 percent. This belief that the problem lies with everyone else – Congress is bad, but my representatives are not the problem, yours are – just allows the cycle to continue. And this brings up even further concerns that people are willing to look past. Congress may be corrupt, but if the local congressional representative’s corruption benefits their district, the district is willing to look the other way – again, only other people’s corruption bothers them. A representative may be obstinate and unwilling to compromise, but if doing so on an issue that the district agrees with, people will gladly blame the dispute on others everywhere else.
When it comes right down to it though, why do Americans continue to support mediocre to openly terrible representation when we claim to want something better? Do we know who these people really are and what they stand for, or are you just voting for the R or D after their name, because that’s what you’re used to doing? Do you know that your representative truly represents you and what you believe in (your interests, your needs, what’s best for your family and community), or is their name just familiar? Is it more convenient to keep voting for them than to look into the possibility that someone new may be a better fit? Part of the reason that nothing improves is that incumbents don’t need things to improve, they just need to scrape together enough votes to get re-elected. They can show up back at home every few years, display some hollow platitudes to make it seem like they’ve actually done something locally, and then head back off to Washington. Some may truly care about their community (though there are also some who probably couldn’t locate their home district on a map), and even willingly spend time there, but for many this is only to the extent that it benefits them.
Its your vote, and you can do with it as you please, but don’t you owe it to yourself and your community to know what you’re voting for? The next election isn’t all that far away (in some areas, primaries have already begun), so the time has come to start finding out. Look into incumbents’ actual voting records, not just what they say they support. Look into where their money actually comes from (hint: its not from inside your district) to see where their loyalties will be when it counts. This is all in the public record, but most people will just take what they can glean from a few minutes of cable news rather than looking it up themselves. They are supposed to be there to represent you – you are not just there to send them back to Washington. Or better yet, get directly involved on the local level to make your voice heard – if your representative (or those running against them) is giving a town hall, show up and ask them yourself what they plan to do for your community and your country. Have we become so complacent we just do what’s easy, not what’s best? If you want a better Congress, elect better congressmen and women.