PRINCETON, NJ -- Most Americans favor members of Congress voluntarily returning some portion of their salary as a result of the impact of the sequestration budget cuts, which went into effect March 1. In response to two suggested giveback amounts, 78% of Americans favor Congress members returning 5% of their pay, and 79% favor Congress returning 25%.
President Barack Obama recently volunteered to return 5% of his presidential salary to the U.S. Treasury as a result of the sequestration, and other elected officials and members of the Cabinet have followed suit by pledging to return a portion of their salary to the Treasury or give a percentage to charity.
Changes in pay for members of the House and Senate cannot take effect until after the next election cycle has taken place, according to the 27th Amendment, which means that House and Senate members cannot begin to officially receive less pay until after next year's elections. But any elected official can voluntarily return a portion of his or her pay to the U.S. Treasury or donate it to charity.
Americans appear to think it would be just fine with them personally if members of Congress did voluntarily rebate part of their salary. The amount of the giveback makes little difference to Americans -- 78% say members of Congress should return 5% of their pay. When a separate random sample was asked about a 25% cut in pay, 79% of Americans favored it.
It's not hard to find reasons why the public might favor a voluntary giveback in pay by members of the House and Senate. Congress' job approval in recent months has been in the low teens (13% in March; April's rating will be released this week on Gallup.com), which means the vast majority of Americans disapprove of the job their representatives have been doing in Washington. Similarly, 34% of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the "legislative branch consisting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives," suggesting that agreement with the return in pay is essentially a ratification of a vote of no confidence. Thirteen percent of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress as an institution, near the all-time low on that measure.
There is virtually no difference in the views on this issue between Democrats and Republicans, making this one of those issues on which there is a high level of agreement across partisan lines.
Most Americans approve of the idea that members of the U.S. House and Senate should voluntarily return either 5% or 25% of their salary to the Treasury. Americans' overwhelming favor for this proposal likely stems at least in part from their low approval of the job Congress is doing. Americans may thus be following the same principle as a corporate board of directors that lowers the compensation of a CEO when the company is not meeting corporate targets.
Some of the reason for the widespread agreement may also stem directly from the sequestration that took effect more than a month ago, now resulting in cutbacks and government employee furloughs, which are essentially pay cuts for government employees.
It is impossible for Congress to officially cut its own pay across the board in any short-term way, but this read of the attitudes of the American public suggests that individual members may face pressure to return their pay or provide explanations for why they are not doing so.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 6-7, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 541 national adults in Form A and 484 national adults in Form B, the margins of sampling error are ±6 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit https://www.gallup.com/.