It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Congress. Almost. Public Policy Polling (PPP) has released the results of a poll pitting Congress against various unlikeables, including lice, brussel sprouts, colonoscopies, NFL replacement refs, traffic jams, the country of France, and the band Nickelback.
Each one of these things outpolled Congress — many of them by a dozen points or more. Still, it's not entirely bad news for federal legislators. The survey also finds that there are some things people hate more than Congress, including the Kardashians, John Edwards, Fidel Castro, North Korea, and Communism. And, uh, gonorrhea.
The survey is as much troll as poll, and PPP is clearly having some fun at the expense of the nation's legislative class. But it also serves to highlight the public's real dissatisfaction with present-day politics: For many Americans, Congress serves as an all purpose stand-in for the political process, for the way Washington does (or doesn't do) business, and for the overall operations of the federal government. And it's pretty clear that almost no one is particularly pleased with the way things are going.
Some liberals have taken this mood as a sign that the public is dissatisfied with Republican opposition to President Obama's agenda, hence the widespread talk of GOP obstructionism. But it's not clear that a more compliant Congress would produce a happier public. Public approval of Congress spiked briefly around the time President Obama took office and, aside from a few brief blips, has declined fairly steadily ever since. The drop started right as President Obama was sworn in and continued through the first two years of his first term, when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate and racked up an impressive list of big-ticket legislative victories for the president. Yes, the GOP put up a fight during those years, but it's hard to argue that the 111th Congress wasn't bogged down by obstruction and opposition. It was, by most any useful measure, an enormously productive Congress. Yet congressional approval ratings didn't exactly soar then either.
And then there's the recent election. One way to look at it is as a victory for President Obama and Democrats. That's not wrong, exactly, but you could just as easy describe it as a win for gridlock: A public that's deeply divided over how Washington should govern expressed those divisions by voting more or less for the status quo, despite its equally deep dislike of how Washington is being run. Which offers a hint as to why PPP was able to produce the sort of poll results it did: There's no public consensus about what, if anything, federal legislators should do, or should have done. And as a result, everyone's unhappy enough with Congress as it is that they'll tell pollsters they like it less than being stuck in a traffic jam, listening to Nickelback, and/or scratching the lice out of their heads.