In recent years, the United States Congress has become, at best, increasingly dysfunctional. At worst, members of Congress are intentionally tribal and partisan, openly hostile to reach across the aisle to work in the common interests of American citizens, as is their duty, but to instead advance their ideological agendas.
For years, Americans have taken notice and voiced their displeasure with Congress, yet nothing seems to change. If anything, professional politicians are simply becoming more extreme.
While Americans have been frustrated with Congress for years, recent polling suggests the current discontent with our elected leaders is reaching new lows. The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that in August, just 21% of Americans approved of the job being done by Congress. Only 4% approved strongly.
Why is it that trust in Congress and approval of their work has been steadily declining for years? We firmly believe that it is the loss of Veterans serving in Congress which has led to the decline of Congress’s performance and prestige.
And we’re not alone.
Rye Barcott is CEO & Co-Founder of runs a non-partisan PAC organization to help Veterans run for and maintain office in Congress. Barcott made the following statement to Fox 17 in Michigan in July:
“We address polarization and dysfunction in congress by helping to elect and support principled veterans who take a pledge to serve with integrity, civility and courage, including the courage to work across party lines. We think that’s especially important today. Bipartisanship is near record lows and veteran participation in Congress is also near record lows. We believe those two are really well connected.”
What has led to such a drop in Veterans representing their states in Congress? There are several potential reasons why, which we have covered in a previous post, but the two most likely reasons are simply fewer Americans serving in the military in the post-draft era and the prohibitively high cost of running a winning campaign.
While we cannot definitively assert that more Veterans in Congress would turn things around on Capitol Hill, we can gain insights into a possible correlation between the number of Vets in Congress and the public’s approval of the institution.
As noted by Task & Purpose, “…in the late 1960s, there were more than 300 veterans in Congress. Today, there are less than 100.” And looking at historical trends in Congress’s public approval rating reveals Congress enjoyed greater public support in previous decades.
Before 2010, Congress’s overall approval rating only dipped below 20% twice since 1974. It then remained under 20% for the next six years in a row until 2016. Up until the mid 2000s, Congress typically hovered in the 20-30% approval threshold, while not good, far better than the abysmal ratings of recent years. Many years in the 80’s and 90’s were closer to 50% Congressional approval, with ratings reaching as high as 56% and 72% in the years 2000 and 2001.
While the unity experienced post 9/11 cannot be discounted for the 2001 figures, we believe there is a relationship between the dwindling number of Vets serving in Congress, reaching their lows in the 2000s, and the steady decline of public approval for our nation’s lawmakers. It is not merely that Veterans are better lawmakers, but rather, that they have experience putting the Constitution and public interests ahead of their own through their military training and service. It is the lack of duty and selflessness created by our professional political class which has created an atmosphere of party before country. Fighting to get more Veterans elected, from either party, is an opportunity to restore the concept of public service into Congress, and we believe, is a solution to the rampant partisanship and bitter political divide which is threatening our nation today.