Though Members of Congress Do Talk a Lot, Most Americans Say Thorough Debate is Important



2006 Public Opinion Survey Overview

Though Members of Congress Do Talk a Lot, Most Americans Say Thorough Debate is Important


BLOOMINGTON, Ind., March 6, 2007 – Congress is often criticized for talking a lot about the nation's problems without acting to resolve them, but a survey by the Center on Congress has found that an overwhelming majority of Americans have no problem with legislators thoroughly discussing issues before passing laws.

When asked if they would prefer that members of Congress take action without engaging in lengthy discussions, or discuss issues more thoroughly before taking action, 80 percent of Americans said they recognized the need for a thorough discussion.

"We hear a lot about people being tired of delays, endless debates, and gridlock in Congress, but our survey suggests that most Americans understand it's important to have a full airing of differing views," said Edward G. Carmines, Director of Research for the Center on Congress.

"The poll also revealed a fairly high level of public understanding about the challenges Congress faces in policymaking," said Carmines.

When asked why Congress has difficulty arriving at decisions, about half the public said it's because politicians in Washington just like to argue. "But an equal number of people said that it's tough for Congress to make decisions because Americans have such widely divergent views on many issues," Carmines said.

The public also split half-and-half on the role of compromise in the legislative process. While half think members of Congress should stand up for their principles no matter what, the other half endorsed members compromising with their opponents in order to get something done.

And while 35 percent of those surveyed said that personal self-interest is the main thing influencing what members of Congress do in office, many Americans took the more charitable views that members are motivated primarily by what their constituents want (28 percent) or by what's in the interest of the nation as a whole (33 percent).

Whatever a person's attitude about Congress, positive or negative, the poll found that only 28 percent of Americans feel it is "very important" to contact their U.S. senators or representative. Voting is apparently regarded as a sufficient exercise of civic duty: 92 percent of those surveyed said voting is "very important."

The findings are based on a national telephone survey of adults in approximately 1200 households. The Center on Survey Research at Indiana University conducted the interviews in the fall of 2006, leading up to the November election.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis, the University of California at San Diego, Ohio State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Nebraska and Indiana University participated in the study. Funding for the project came from these researchers as well as from the Center on Congress, the Center for Democratic Governance at the University of Illinois, the Center on American Politics at Indiana University, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University.

Survey 2006 Detail:

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