Politics and Public Opinion

Americans Still Crave Bipartisanship

In 2006, AEI scholar Norm Ornstein published The Broken Branch, a detailed examination of what works and what doesn’t in Congress. In the latest discussion of what’s wrong in Washington, USA Today’s chief political correspondent Susan Page quotes Ornstein as she delves into American dissatisfaction with “broken government.” In the front page story, Page reports that according to a new Gallup poll, Americans are unhappy with how the country is being governed by a ratio of 4-1.

Additionally, a new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that an increasing percentage of Americans are distrustful of government. In September 2011, 77 percent said they could trust the government to do what is right “only some of the time”—66 percent gave that response a year ago. And this skepticism is shared among rich and poor, young and old, white and black. Even among non-whites—the most trustful group—only 24 percent said they trusted the government to do what is right “most of the time.”

Fixing our broken government will be no easy feat, though. Page points to three potential solutions: changing the way congressional lines are drawn; revising the rules for Senate filibusters; and altering the congressional calendar in order to encourage better relationships between members of opposing parties. Norm Ornstein has written about each of these topics, identifying them as potential reforms to increase a sense of bipartisanship and shared responsibility in government.

Trouble is, there is little chance of any of these suggestions becoming reality, mainly because neither major party has an impetus to alter the status quo. For instance, as Page notes, the Cook Political Report currently rates only 53 of the country’s 435 congressional districts as competitive (that is, in either the lean or toss-up categories). With neither party wanting to give up sure congressional seats, there is little support for a new system of drawing district lines.

Though the idea of bipartisanship may be a pipe dream in Washington, polls indicate that this is what Americans want. In his Reagan Library speech last evening, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that his state’s divided government has gotten results on a bipartisan basis because of “leadership and compromise.” The idea of bipartisanship is fairly taboo in Washington, but it is still possible.

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