2006 Political Scientists Grade Congress

 Experts Surveyed Press Release [PDF]

2006 Political Scientist Survey

Experts Surveyed on Congress' Performance
Give The Institution a "C-minus" for 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Dec. 22, 2006 – Congress scrapes by with an overall grade of "C-minus" in a newly released survey of political scientists who were asked to rate the performance of the national legislature during 2006.

The non-partisan Center on Congress at Indiana University conducted the online survey, getting a select group of 39 top academic experts on Congress from around the country to give the institution grades on 18 questions.

Members received just one "A" — on the question "Do legislators make a good effort to be accessible to their constituents?" A few "B"s were given out — one on the question "Do legislators broadly reflect the interests of their constituents?" and another on "Does Congress make its workings and activities open to the public?"

But Congress' overall GPA was dragged way down by "D"s on questions such as whether Congress keeps excessive partisanship in check, whether it carries out effective oversight of the executive branch, and whether it protects its powers from presidential encroachment.

And the experts dished out low "C"s in abundance, taking a dim view of how Congress in 2006 "kept the role of special interests within proper bounds," and "held members to high standards of ethical conduct," and "allowed members in the minority to play a role."

"C" was also the grade Congress got for "following good process and conducting its business in a deliberate way." Another "C" came on the question "Does Congress engage in productive discussion and allow all points of view to be heard?"

"If our sons or daughters brought home these grades, we'd be talking to the teacher the next day," said political scientist Edward G. Carmines, who is Director of Research for the Center on Congress and analyzed the results of the survey.

To the experts, Carmines says, Congress looks like an underachieving student who has the ability to perform better. "These experts see Congress as having the authority and power to improve its performance and image. Its weak areas are things it has control over — it can use its oversight power, reduce partisanship, tighten ethics standards. The question is, do members have the will?"

The Center on Congress plans to make an annual tradition of conducting a year-end survey of experts' opinion on the performance of Congress. "Our interest is not to dwell on past shortcomings, but to develop a sense moving forward of what areas are most in need of improvement, as well as what areas are generally handled well by Congress," explains Lee Hamilton, Director of the Center.

2006 Survey Data:

Select Questions and Responses