By Bob Cusack - 10/07/10 09:55 AM EDT
The finding suggests that people likely to have a big say in who controls the House in the next Congress believe that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has failed to keep her 2006 promise to “drain the swamp” of congressional corruption.
The Hill/ANGA poll is the first in a groundbreaking series that will survey a total of 42 battleground districts before Election Day — providing clear evidence of who will control the House in the 112th Congress.
In Week 1, pollster Penn Schoen Berland surveyed 4,809 likely voters via phone interviews from Sept. 25 through Sept. 30. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.4 percent, with the margins being higher in subgroups.
Mark Penn, who led the polling team, noted that 34 percent of Democrats polled believe that the handling of ethics has deteriorated since 2008.
Scandals played a leading role in the 1994 elections, when Republicans seized control of Congress. And four years ago, GOP ethical problems helped Democrats take over the House and Senate.
House Republicans hope history repeats itself. While ethics controversies have hit members of both parties in the 111th Congress, most attention this year has focused on Democrats, including Reps. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) and former Rep. Eric Massa (N.Y.).
When she took the Speaker’s gavel four years ago, Pelosi pledged to run the “most ethical and honest Congress in history.” And she insists that she has done so. When pressed this year on that commitment, Pelosi interjected, “And we are.”
Asked for comment on the poll’s results, Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman, said, “Leading independent advocates for congressional reform credit House Democrats for taking tough action that ensured unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency. When the GOP was in charge, they quadrupled earmarks and legislated behind closed doors on behalf of corporate special interests and have stood in the way of Democratic reform efforts in Congress for the last four years.”
Pelosi’s office also pointed to quotes from Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 and Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington praising the Speaker for her ethics reforms, most notably the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
While it has attracted praise from watchdog groups, the OCE has been criticized by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in recent months.
GOP officials contend that Democrats’ ethics woes will hurt them at the polls next month.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, “There is no doubt that ‘draining the swamp’ in Washington is Speaker Pelosi and Washington Democrats’ most glaring broken promise.”
The overall results show that many older voters (55 years old and above) believe congressional ethics are in decline (62 percent), while only 38 percent of respondents between 17 and 34 years of age take the same view. In the 55-and-above demographic, only 6 percent said ethics have gotten better. There was little difference in the poll between the attitudes of men and women on congressional ethics.
During George W. Bush’s administration, the ethics of House Republicans was front-page news amid the Jack Abramoff scandal and the imprisonment of Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.). In 2004, the House ethics committee admonished then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) three times. But the ethics spotlight shifted to Democrats after they grabbed control of Congress.
Republicans over the last several years have seized on the ethics controversies of Rangel, applying political pressure on Pelosi, who pushed the New York Democrat to give up his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.
The House ethics panel has a lot of work left on its plate, though it is unclear how much of it will emerge this year. The committee is working on the final report on Massa’s alleged groping of male staffers and the trials of Rangel and Waters.
House Republicans on the ethics panel last week urged committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) to schedule those trials before the elections.
The Hill/ANGA 2010 Midterm