With the 2012 election cycle in full swing, congressional approval hovers around 9%. To put this into perspective, at the height of Watergate, President Nixon's favorability never dropped below 23%. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joked that the 9% who endorse Congress at this point are likely blood relatives or paid staffers.
Why do Americans hate Washington so much? Yes, the legislature's inability to pass law and the partisan bickering play a part. However, the barrage of negativity that comes part and parcel with our political campaigns also weighs heavily on the US public.
Negative campaigns are nothing new and their effectiveness has been proven. But what has changed of late is the sheer volume of negativity. In the past, candidates would run on their policies or abilities, but today's elections are often decided on the basis of which team can most rapidly and debilitatingly attack their rival.
2012 is already looking like one of the most brutal cycles ever. On one side, the Republicans have already battered each other through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. On the other, Team Obama prefers to frame its entire reelection bid around attacks on House Republicans and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, rather than focus on the administration's achievements - namely the withdrawal from Iraq, healthcare reform, bin Laden, and so on.
America deserves better. In 2008, Obama strode to victory on a platform of reforming Washington and making it respectable again. Likewise, Jon Huntsman stood proudly in front of the Statue of Liberty and proclaimed that he "didn't need to ruin anyone's reputation to run for president." Neither has lived up to his word.
Negativity takes its toll. Voters feel they must choose between the lesser of two evils. And this perception pervades well beyond polling day - witness Congress' dismal approval rating.
Political attacks have their time and place, but that's usually when your candidate is five points behind with two weeks to go. They do not have to be par for the course. For this adjustment to happen, there must be an industry-wide recognition that the way campaigns are being run today is simply unconstructive to building a lasting relationship between our political institutions and the public.
Elliott Suthers is a VP at Spector & Associates. Prior to joining Spector, he was a communications and media adviser to the 2008 McCain/Palin presidential campaign and to Sen. Joe Lieberman.