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What public institution do Americans trust least? Congress, of course

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Jason Reed/Reuters

(Read caption) Protesters demonstrate against health care reform outside the US Capitol Building in March.

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A Gallup poll released today found that the American public's confidence in Congress is at a record low, despite many political experts calling this session of Congress one of its most productive in decades.

Only 11 percent of Americans say they have some level of confidence in Congress, placing it dead last among the 16 institutions rated in Gallup's 2010 Confidence in Institutions poll. The poll shows that the public has always had little faith in Congress compared to other institutions. But does it seem counterintuitive for confidence to be at its lowest, after Congress succeeded in passing sweeping reforms in the health care and financial industries?

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, doesn’t think so.

The results of the poll are not surprising because the public has not felt the effects of any of those reforms passed by Congress yet, Baker says. Until that happens, widespread dissatisfaction and distrust in Congress will continue to rise.

“People today are products of instant gratification,” he says. “ If with the wave of a wand, Congress and President Obama could reduce unemployment, I suppose they would get credit, but that’s not the way things work.”

Amidst a recession and record high unemployment rates, people are blaming their legislators for not bringing the public immediate relief, creating a strong anti-incumbent sentiment and “a lynch-mob mentality,” Baker says.

“It’s probably a good thing that the Senate is a continuous body,” he says.

“Only a third of the seats are up in November. If they were all up, there would be an effort to clear out everyone.”

The poll also found a 15-point decrease in confidence in the presidency, from 51 percent in June 2009 to 36 percent today. President Barack Obama, who had managed to maintain steady approval for most of his presidency, is now seeing a sharp decline in his ratings.

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“There is just this kind of sullenness and disappointment, perhaps by the very hopes that Obama raised,” Baker says. “The fact that things haven’t changed has made people disillusioned.”

The military was ranked the highest in the poll for the 12th consecutive year. The high-ranking shows that the public’s doubts concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are directed more toward policy makers and the commander-in-chief rather than their military leaders.


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