Congress Is Better When Political 'Extremists' Are Weak, Poll Shows

05/15/2015 08:46 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015
Win McNamee via Getty Images

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is more effective when political "extremists" have less clout, most Americans said in a Reuters-Ipsos poll that also showed the public still has a dim view of Congress, despite a run of legislative achievements this year.

Reinforcing the idea that the November 2014 elections were about Americans wanting more effective government, the poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed said Congress is more effective "when the extremists on either side don't have as much leverage," while 22 percent disagreed with this.

"It's much too polarized, too political now," said Penny Mahar, a political independent from Whitesboro, New York, and one of the poll respondents.

"Once, when somebody was elected to Congress, they would work with the opposite party to try to make things better for their country. Now they seem more focused on their party than the needs of the people."

Congress has become slightly more productive in the last few months since voters awarded majorities to Republicans in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Bipartisan legislation to rework the pay formula for Medicare doctors was passed last month and signed into law by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

The Senate passed a bipartisan bill on May 7 allowing Congress to review a nuclear deal with Iran, and the House passed the measure on Thursday. There is also been no government shutdown since October 2013.

Nonetheless, the Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of Americans still had an unfavorable view of Congress, with 47 percent holding a favorable view. These views have not changed over the past six months for three-fifths of those polled.

"There's so much conflict in Congress, with people in both parties unwilling to compromise," said Mike Helferd, also an independent, from Hilton Head, South Carolina. "Every once in a while they get something through in spite of themselves."

Several respondents told a Reuters reporter they had not heard about the recent legislative accomplishments. Most poll respondents, 71 percent, said they viewed Congress as either "mostly" or "completely" dysfunctional.

"I don't think they've been able to really make changes. It seems like it is still the status quo," said Dan Boesken of Batesville, Indiana, who said he leans Republican.

The Reuters-Ipsos online survey of 2,749 Americans was conducted May 4-12. The poll's credibility interval, a measure of its precision, is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said the distaste for extremism shown in the poll reflected the "general moderation" of the U.S. public.

"Despite a more polarized electorate, voters tend to be more moderate than the politicians that they elect to Congress. So it makes sense that a majority would say that Congress is more effective when extremists are marginalized," she said.

The poll did not define "extremists." Some respondents, when asked by Reuters to name groups they considered extremist, suggested Tea Party conservatives, or on the other side of the political spectrum, "ultra-liberals."

Some poll respondents saw reason to hope for more agreement and productivity from Congress soon.

Helferd said Tea Party Republicans are already less able than they once were to block legislation they dislike.

"They are so vociferously anti-anything that isn't part of their platform, I think they are losing popularity," he said.

Mahar hoped Senator Chuck Schumer, expected to become the chamber's next Democratic leader, will work with Republicans to get things done.

Harry Reid, the current Senate Democratic leader, "wouldn't move anything," she said. "Everything stayed on his desk." (Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh. Editing by Andre Grenon)

Also on HuffPost:

U.S. Capitol Photos
Suggest a correction