Americans Hate Washington, but Are Optimistic

The Slatest
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

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.


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.



Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.