Survey: Americans Have Cynical View of Politics

Saturday, July 28, 2007

In a week in which an argument between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) dominated the political headlines, a new survey offers a warning to all politicians that the American people have come to this campaign with a wholly cynical view of the political process.

The Battleground Poll is a long-running bipartisan project that has regularly taken the temperature of the electorate. The newest report, issued by Republican Brian Tringali of the Tarrance Group and Democrat Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, includes several startling indicators of a political system in distress.

Majorities of Americans believe that most politicians are not trustworthy, and they hold an unfavorable view toward them in general. That was in line with what many surveys have shown.

Even more striking was the answer to the question of whether Americans believe that their own member of Congress puts partisan politics ahead of constituents' interests. Fully 71 percent said yes, and 63 percent strongly held that view.

Because Americans have generally held their own members of Congress in much higher regard than they do the institution -- and still do by most estimates -- the answer to that question shocked the team that produced the survey.

Lake called it "downright flabbergasting and a very, very serious warning" to all politicians that the national political environment is highly unstable. "It's a warning to all the candidates that they have to straddle these two worlds: effectiveness and not being an insider," she said.

Tringali said he and Lake were equally struck by the pessimism they found. A plurality of respondents (38 percent) believe that their children will be worse off in the future, compared with a third who said they "think their own children will be better off than they are right now -- a drop of 7 points since January."

Tringali wrote in his analysis of the findings that it would be "hard to overemphasize" what a sea change this represents in the attitudes of a country that long has prided itself on its optimism.

-- Dan Balz


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