Hill Poll: Voters want to cut lawmaker pay and make them work longer

More than two-thirds of likely voters think members of Congress should work more for less pay. 

A large percentage of voters say lawmakers should have their salaries cut and their pensions eliminated, and they should also work longer, according to a new poll commissioned by The Hill.

The poll’s findings reflect the public’s ever-darkening view of Congress, now at record lows, and perhaps the respondents’ tepid views about their own financial prospects: In the same survey, 40 percent said they expect their personal finances will get worse in 2012 while another 40 percent said they only expect them to remain the same.

Sixty-seven percent said the $174,000 base salary for members should be lowered instead of raised or left as it is, and 69 percent want members’ pensions discontinued.

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Sixty-four percent of respondents said Congress should work more days than it does now to pass legislation, suggesting the public perceives that it is not getting enough done under its current calendar.

The supercommittee’s recent failure to produce a deficit-reduction plan and Senate and House failures to agree on a budget surely contribute to this perception also.

When it comes to the change wrought by a new Republican majority in the House, 38 percent of likely voters said it changed Washington for the worse, while 28 percent said it changed for the better and 28 percent said it made no difference.

The findings were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted last Thursday by Pulse Opinion Research, an independent polling firm,with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Men are more likely to think the Republican takeover of the House was a good thing than women, the poll found. Thirty-three percent said it was a good thing, while 31 percent said it changed Washington for the worse and 28 percent said it made no difference.

Among women, however, 44 percent said the GOP House has changed things for the worse, while only 24 percent said it has improved Washington.

Women also tended to feel more strongly that Congress should work more days, with 72 percent in agreement versus only 56 percent of men. Men were more likely to say members’ base salary should be lowered (69 percent, to 66 percent for women) and that congressional pensions should be discontinued (71 percent to 66 percent).

The congressional pension system was first created in 1942, repealed because of criticism and reinstated in 1946 with the argument that it would encourage older members to retire.

Under the current system, members are eligible for pensions at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service, and at 50 if they have completed 20 years of service.

The current base salary of $174,000 was arrived at in 2009, up from $169,300.

While strong majorities of likely voters making less than $100,000 favored cutting congressional salaries, respondents making more than $100,000 annually were fairly evenly split, with 47 percent wanting the salaries reduced and 42 percent wanting them to stay the same.

Those making less than $20,000, perhaps surprisingly, were more interested in seeing congressional pensions done away with (80 percent) than in lowering congressional salaries: Only 6 in 10 favored cutting members’ pay, compared with the roughly 8 in 10 with that view among respondents making between $20,000 and $60,000.

On members’ pensions, voters aged 18 to 39 were more sympathetic than older voters. While 59 percent said they should be eliminated, 18 percent said they should be kept and 23 percent said they were not sure.

Among voters aged 40-64, 76 percent said pensions should be abolished, with 13 percent in favor of keeping them, and among voters aged 65 and older, 73 percent wanted them abolished with 15 percent in favor of continuing them.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.