According to a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, 70% of Americans think that the discourse in Washington between Democrats and Republicans has become noticeably less civil during the Trump Administration. This is despite the high level of decorum coming from the White House……
Certainly, the news media has contributed to the illusion of increased inter-party acrimony – which has likely partially led to the 68% of Americans who don’t trust the media at all or very much. There’s a lot of coverage of Washington infighting, be it over bills before Congress, the foreign policy issues of the day, or whatever rude tweet the President might have sent out while watching “Fox and Friends”.
But is there MORE infighting than ever?
The facts about what is happening in Washington should supply a clearer answer. In 2010, Senator Jim DeMint made a claim that 94% of Senate votes were unanimous – a claim that Politifact disputes because a lot of those are non-binding resolutions that don’t need a presidential signature, even though they don’t dispute DeMint’s correct math. Politifact uses faulty logic and deceptive math to set the number at 27.9% in 2010, during the Obama administration, leaving off the arguably wasteful “tribute” votes, like ones congratulating the 2010 Little League US Champion (Congressional Record), which no one with a heart is going to reject, because these bills have zero impact. We will use the Politifact criteria, and disqualify all the votes that do things like congratulate the 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors (Senate Resolution 192), because it does match up with the Senate voting records.
So far in 2017, the United States Senate has voted on 155 bills. Of those, 36 have passed, and 1 failed, with less than 15% dissension – so clearly not a party line split. So that’s 23.8%, which is statistically slightly lower, but in a year where there are far more confirmations and far more public debate over those confirmations than in a typical year – in fact, more than 1/4 of their official work (28.3% to be precise) has been confirmations. In 2009, the last year there were mass confirmation hearings, only 76 of 397 votes in the Senate passed, and 2 rejected, with less than 15% dissension. That’s 19.6% of votes.
To be completely fair, in both years, if you include the tribute votes, the percentages go north of 80% – these vanity votes do make up a large percentage of the Congressional Record – so what we can conclude is that we have senators who are not robots, but human beings.
So far, what we are seeing with the statistics is that Washington is NOT at all more acrimonious, but slightly less so than during the dawn of the Obama administration. However, let’s be completely fair here – these percentages are still very low. There’s a lot of debate happening in Washington, especially during years of presidential transition – which, as you may recall, started last year when, for example, the Senate refused to perform their Constitutional duty to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland. These transitional pains are part of the inefficient process that is our modern Federal government, but, in reality, it’s no different during the Trump administration, despite the impression that you might be getting from the news media.