Voters like their representatives but detest Congress, poll shows

October 12, 1990|By New York Times News Service

Four weeks before the midterm elections, the American public is in adiscontented mood, with 60 percent saying they disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job and more than two-thirds saying it is time to replace most members of Congress, a New York Times/CBS News Poll has found.

But people still looked more kindly on their own member of Congress than on Congress in general, and the forces protecting incumbent House members are formidable -- from superior war chests to the perquisites of office.

Moreover, there was little for the White House to gloat about in all this Congress-bashing.

For all the public's irritation with Congress, 55 percent said they still trusted it to do a better job in cutting the federal deficit than President Bush, while just 24 percent said that Mr. Bush would do a better job.

Congress' approval rating was 27 percent, down sharply from January's level of 42 percent.

The portrait of Congress that emerged from many people was of a body driven by special interests and by the lawmakers' own concerns -- rather than those of the people who sent them there.

Many people seemed to be saying a pox on both branches of government.

In follow-up interviews after the poll was completed, Lance D. Deroucher, a 32-year-old Republican from Utica, N.Y., asserted that Congress and the president were "acting like a bunch of kids, bickering back and forth."

There are many crosscurrents in the public's attitude toward their members of Congress, according to this telephone survey of 960 adults on Oct. 8-10, while the White House was repeatedly shifting its position on the tax measures it would accept and negotiations with Congress were in turmoil.

People still draw a distinction between Congress as a whole and their own individual member of Congress: Forty-four percent say their own representative deserves re-election, while 40 percent say they would prefer somebody new, even in their own district.

This swings overwhelmingly when people are asked to consider Congress as a whole: While 20 percent say most lawmakers deserve re-election, 67 percent say it is time "to give new people a chance."

The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"It's more a matter of punishment than that the new people would necessarily be better," said Vinny M. Boland, 31, who owns a sign-making company in Miramar, Fla., and who described himself as an independent voter from a Democratic family.

"The wealthy and the special interests will still sway whoever is in office and get their point across. But if elected officials know they're vulnerable, maybe they won't give as much."

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