The myth: Voters hate Congress but love their Congressman

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The myth: Voters hate Congress but love their Congressman

Postby JEQuidam » Sat Nov 27, 2010 7:11 pm

Scott Rasmussen, a highly respected pollster with an excellent track record, wrote a little book last year titled “In Search of Self-Governance” in which he made a number of insightful observations. The one I want to call to everyone's attention is his commentary about “the tired cliché that ‘voters hate Congress but love their own Congressman’”. I had longed believed this was an old canard that, though it may hold true in a number of districts, is not applicable to any great extent.

Below is the relevant excerpt from In Search of Self-Governance.

Scott Rasmussen wrote:Political activists routinely snicker about the fact that most Americans can’t even name their own representative in Congress. To political junkies, who view these elected politicians as princes or petty monarchs, this is a sure sign of public ignorance. From a different perspective, it’s a bit like not knowing the names of the cool kids in junior high school.

But, like junior high school students worried about hanging with the cool kids, political activists are so wrapped up in their own world that they miss a very basic point – there’s no reason that most people should know who represents their districts in Congress. It might help in a game of Trivial Pursuit, but what difference does it make in the real world?

Knowing the name of your District’s rep in Congress is certainly not going to give you any influence over how that person acts or votes. Unless you’re a close friend, lobbyist, or big donor, they’re not going to pick up the phone when you call.

And if you need help from a Congressional office, you don’t need to know your Congressman’s name. Congress has set up a web service where you can enter your zip code and they’ll connect you with the appropriate office staff. All legislators are happy to help, especially since their constituent services are paid for by taxpayers.

What about elections and voting? Well, about 90% of Americans live in Congressional Districts specifically designed to avoid competitive races and offer no meaningful choice to voters. Incumbents like it that way. But, if there’s no meaningful choice, knowing the name of your representative doesn’t matter even on Election Day.

Activists from both political parties like to discourage talk about the way elections are essentially rigged for one party or the other. They tend to trot out the tired cliché that “voters hate Congress but love their own Congressman.” They intentionally overlook the obvious contradiction that people can’t love their elected officials if they don’t know their name. Deep down they know the truth. Legislators win reelection for the same reasons that casinos make money: they write the rules.*

*In Search of Self-Governance
Pages 39 and 40
© 2009 Scott W. Rasmussen
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