Americans Hate Washington, but Are Optimistic

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 8 2013 11:55 AM

Americans Say Washington Politics Is Harming the Country, but Think Things Will Get Better

158956972
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rubs his eyes

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

It's not surprising that the latest Gallup poll shows the American public has an overwhelmingly negative attitude toward the federal government, particularly Congress. What is surprising though, is how optimistic Americans are on the future of Washington politics.

We know that Congress' approval rating has been stuck in a historically low rut for a while now, and Monday's Gallup poll provides a complimentary statistic: 77 percent of Americans agree that "the way politics works in Washington these days is causing serious harm to the United States." 19 percent disagreed. Current job approval rating for Congress? 18 percent. Republicans were more negative, but a clear majority of all party designations did not have a positive opinion about Washington politics.

Advertisement

Here's where it gets interesting. While agreeing that "politics," apparently Congress in particular, based on Gallup's analysis, are causing "serious harm" to the country, Americans generally remain optimistic about the political process. When asked whether they're "generally optimistic or pessimistic that the way politics work in Washington will improve in the next ten years," 52 percent pegged themselves as optimistic while 45 percent were pessimistic. Democrats were more positive than Republicans or independents.  The big question: Where is this optimism coming from?

Some might chalk up this optimism as a symptom (or cause) of notions of American exceptionalism, a waning belief according to this 2011 Pew poll, which found that just about half of Americans believe their culture is superior to other nations. But, despite the similar shares of the American public, the optimists and exceptionalists don't quite line up. Exceptionalists trend older, while the Gallup poll found optimism levels slightly higher among younger Americans. There just doesn't seem to be a clear explanation to fully explain the gap between current low opinions and high hopes for the future. An optimist could argue that the positive outlook for a decade from now comes from an intent to do something to fix what Americans perceive to be wrong, but historically, Americans don't generally receive high grades in political participation.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 9:26 AM These Lego Masterpieces Capture the Fear and Humor of the “Dark” Side
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.