Congress draws fire, but not congressmen


Marylanders surveyed by the Sun Poll expressed considerable cynicism toward institutions of government -- particularly Congress -- but were a good deal more tolerant of individual officials representing them.

For example, 77 percent said the U.S. Congress was doing a "fair" or "poor" job, but only 42 percent gave such low ratings to their own Congressional representative.

Similarly, 59 percent agreed with the statement, "Most of the elected representatives in Congress are not really interested in the problems of the average person," but only 35 percent agreed the criticism was true of their own representative.

Such results -- harshly critical of politicians and political institutions in general but not of individual incumbents -- mirror those from national polls. For example, a majority of respondents in national polls favor limits on the terms of Congressional representatives -- but most representatives continue to win reelection easily.

The latest Sun Poll was taken as congress struggled unsuccessfully with a budget package, and Congress came in for the most criticism. While 77 percent said Congress was doing only a fair or poor job--generally regarded as unfavorable ratings--comparable numbers were 47 percent for President Bush, 36 percent for for Gov. William Donald Schaefer and 50 percent for the Maryland legislature.

A solid majority of those surveyed 57 percent said the federal government is "very wasteful" in spending tax dollars, while only 2 percent said it was not wasteful and 21 percent said their local government was not wasteful.

Among Maryland political figures, Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen and First District Congressman Roy Dyson got favorability ratings which were low for incumbents. But there was no sign of widespread "throw the rascals out" sentiment.

Governor Schaefer continued to enjoy high favorability scores, and other incumbents -- Lieutenant Governor Melvin Steinberg, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Comptroller Louis Goldstein -- were viewed unfavorably by no more than 5 percent of the electorate. The statewide incumbents, all Democrats, had huge leads over their Republican challengers.

How this poll was conducted

The Sun Poll is a public-opinion survey. Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 4-11 with 2,133 adults in Maryland who said that they are registered voters and that they are likely to vote next month.

The survey was conducted by KPC Research of Charlotte, N.C. Individuals who are quoted in the articles agreed to be interviewed later by reporters; otherwise, all poll data are confidential.

Poll-takers called a random sample of state homes using random-digit dialing. Adults to be interviewed were randomly selected within each household.

At least four attempts (including at least one daytime call and one nighttime call) were made to reach each respondent selected so that hard-to-reach respondents -- typically singles or young people -- would not be underrepresented.

The margin of error for this poll at the 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points for the sample of state voters. This means that, in theory, in 19 cases out of 20, the results of the poll would differ by fewer than 2.1 percentage points from the results obtained from interviews with all registered voters in the state who said they planned to vote.

The margin of error for groups within the state would be larger because results are based on fewer interviews. For Anne Arundel County, where 574 likely voters were interviewed, and Baltimore County, where 579 likely voters were interviewed, the margin of error is 4.1 percentage points.

Results are weighted by party and by region for an accurate reflection of the electorate.

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