Here at The Fix, we're constantly looking for ways to quantify just how cynical Americans are when it comes to their political system. There are multiple metrics of voter misery. For years, Congress's record-low approval ratings were a fairly good measure. Lately, it's the fact that the two major-party presidential nominees just happen to be the two most unpopular ones in modern American history.
But this new finding from Gallup might say it best.
The pollster asked people how much influence four groups had on members of Congress:
- major donors
- party leaders, and
It won't surprise you to learn that people think donors and lobbyists have too much influence. In fact, strong majorities say both have "a lot" of influence -- 64 percent for big donors and 55 percent for lobbyists.
This sentiment is perhaps best illustrated by this Vine, from CNN's Brenna Williams on Wednesday, of an actual moment on the Senate floor: a shower of cash, courtesy of GMO protesters:
But the really stunning number is how little influence people think constituents have -- as in, almost none.
The poll shows just 14 percent say the people who members of Congress actually represent have "a lot" of influence. Another 29 percent said they have "a fair amount."
That means a strong majority of Americans think members of Congress are influenced by the people who elected them "only a little" (49 percent) or "not at all" (6 percent).
What's even more interesting is that all of these numbers are very similar for Democrats, Republicans and independents -- as in, nearly identical. (The good news is: there's finally an issue where voters across the ideological spectrum share almost exactly the same views on the political system! The bad news is, the thing they agree on is how dysfunctional that system is.)
That bottom line is the most striking, though, because constituents are the people who send these people to Congress. They have the power to unseat members, theoretically, and while most members don't have to worry about the general election because their districts aren't competitive, members are generally at least worried about maybe, potentially losing a primary.
Americans think this ability to influence their members with their votes, though, is basically negligible.
If you want to know why Americans were willing to throw the electoral Hail Marys that are/were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, this is it. Americans haven't just grown disenchanted with the influence of special interests; they've lost faith that their members have any interest in representing them, period.