FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, March 21, 2016

MEDIA CONTACT: Jessica R. Towhey | 202-294-0494 |

New Research from Congressional Institute Lays Out Path for Congressional Reform

ALEXANDRIA, VA – New research commissioned by the Congressional Institute gives Congress a path to institute meaningful reforms that will restore Americans’ perception that their voices are being heard. The research, conducted by The Winston Group, puts Congress’ approval at an all-time low of 12 percent and makes clear that Americans do not believe Congress is accountable. For the first time in history, more people disapprove of the job their own Member of Congress is doing. Critically, less than 1 in 5 voters feel their voices are being heard.

“We are at a crossroads, and if we continue down the path we are on, Congress risks losing the faith and trust of the American people,” said Congressional Institute President Mark Strand. “Roughly every generation, Congress has seen the need to institute fundamental reforms to itself to get back on-track with its work. We are again at one of those times. To change the status quo, we should look at how we can modernize Congress to make it effective and efficient through performance-based governance.”

The Congressional Institute would like to see a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress formed that would take up meaningful reforms to the institution that would have a direct impact on increasing accountability in Congress and give voters greater clarity into the legislative process. The bicameral, bipartisan Committee should chart its course based on the research from The Winston Group, which analyzed the deeper issues of voter perceptions.

There is a shared sentiment that Congress is ineffective, but Republicans tend to say that lawmakers are not looking out for Americans’ best interests while Democrats feel Congress blocks the President’s authority out of partisan spite. Meanwhile, peoples’ view of the country’s direction continues to be very negative with just 26 percent believing we are heading in the right direction and an overwhelming 67 percent saying we are going in the wrong direction. This negative outlook has been sustained now for a number of years, which impacts voters’ concerns for the next generation. About six in 10 voters – 61 percent – do not think the next generation will have the same quality of life as they currently have.

Below are direct quotes from survey and focus groups.

On general disapproval of Congress

“They no longer represent the will of the people. They are not doing what the people are telling them to do.”

“I wish they would work together for the common good.”

“They lost the ability to compromise, which is essential since we are in a democratic government.  Everybody wants to get everything they want without giving something in return.”

On disapproval of their own Member

“They are out of touch with reality. They do not understand what the average American goes through.”

“There is too much politics, and they are too inclined in thinking what is good for them and for their political party, and not for the people of the country.”

“If that representative is not actively looking to break down the division and build bridges, that representative should not be there.”

An Independent voter on accountability

“Elections aren’t holding them accountable, because they keep re-voting the same [Members] back in and back in and back in. And they keep doing the same mistakes over and over and over, and nobody says, why do we keep shutting the government down every other month?”

An Independent voter on the legislative process

“We really don’t know what’s going on up there. And I’m sure they’ve passed legislation. I just don’t think we’re heard about it.”

Interestingly, when The Winston Group asked research participants to rate reform ideas, the highest-rated initiative was to require Members of Congress to publish their voting records on taxpayer funded websites. tracks that information, but clearly people are not aware of the resource. Other highly ranked ideas are:

  • Passing separate appropriations bills to help people better understand what is being funded;
  • Passing a federal budget every two years were among the highest rated ideas;
  • Separating appropriations bills so people can better understand what’s being funded;
  • Making it harder for U.S. Senators to filibuster must-pass budget and appropriations bills;
  • Increasing Congressional oversight of federal programs and agencies to ensure they are accomplishing stated goals and missions;

“Clearly the status quo in Congress cannot continue,” Strand said. “A Joint Committee will be an entry point for Congress to make significant reforms in line with what the people want and expect. What the research tells us is people want Congress to get back to is basic constitutional authority; reform a broken budget process by restoring checks and balances on spending, authority and oversight; increase accountability so that Americans feel their voices are being heard.”

Go here to learn more about the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress.

Go here to learn more about The Winston Group Research.


About The Congressional Institute

Founded in 1987, the Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. The Institute sponsors major conferences for the benefit of Members of the U.S. Congress as well as a number of smaller gatherings, all devoted to an examination of important policy issues and strategic planning. The Institute also conducts important research projects consistent with its mission, develops resources such as a House Floor Procedures Manual and sponsors Oxford-style bipartisan Congressional debates.