Experts Surveyed on Congress' Performance Give The Institution a "C" for 2009

  Experts Surveyed on Congress' Performance Give The Institution a "C" for 2009 [PDF]


BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Jan. 22 — Congress earned a grade of "C" for its work in 2009, according to political scientists asked by the Center on Congress to rate the performance of the national legislature. This is one rung lower than the "C-plus" grade that the experts gave Congress for 2008.

A big factor in the slip were some strongly negative ratings the experts gave to the Senate. On the question, "How well is the Senate able to handle the balance between allowing careful deliberation while also being able to act?" the senators got a D-plus. That was also their grade on the question, "Does the Senate follow good process in conducting its business?"

Asked to rate the effectiveness of each chamber's leadership, the experts gave higher marks to the majority leadership in both the House and the Senate. The House Democratic leadership earned a "B," the House GOP leaders a "C." The Senate GOP leadership also got a "C," while the Senate Democratic leadership earned a "B-minus."

The non-partisan Center conducted the survey online, getting a select group of 46 top academic experts on Congress from around the country to give the institution grades on 35 questions. This is the Center's fourth annual experts' survey.

There were some areas in which the experts felt Congress improved in 2009. Members moved from a "C" to a "B-minus" on the question, "Does Congress protect its powers from presidential encroachment?" And on the question, "Does Congress focus on the key issues facing the country?" the grade for 2009 was a "B," up from a "B-minus" in 2008.

But after a year of highly contentious debate in Washington on health care, the economy, the environment and other issues, the experts voiced some of the same frustrations that are seen in polls of the general public's attitudes on Congress. The experts slapped both the House and the Senate with "D's" on the question of whether they were able to "keep excessive partisanship in check."

On the broad-gauge question, "All things considered, how well does Congress represent the American people?" the experts cut the grade to a "C-plus," down from the "B-minus" they gave in 2008.

The survey also included a set of questions asking the experts to assess the public's knowledge of and interaction with Congress. In past surveys, the public has graded out poorly, and 2009 was no exception. The citizenry got "D's" on "following what is going on in Congress on a regular basis," and on "understanding the main features of Congress and how it works," and on "having a reasonable understanding of what Congress can and should do."

2009 Survey Data

Select Questions and Responses