Congress’ New Debt Ceiling May Be Sturdy, But Its Image Is Tarnished

Following the critical debt ceiling debate period of July 26 to July 31, Congress is in dire need of public support, followed by President Obama. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, which was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday with 960 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points, a record 82% of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job—the most since The Times first began asking the question in 1977, and even more than after another political stalemate led to a shutdown of the federal government in 1995. 

And here’s the kicker: nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world. From a PR perspective, this is a collapse of epic proportions.

Compared to Congress, the public was more evenly divided about how Obama handled the debt ceiling negotiations: 47% disapproved and 46% approved, according to the poll. On Twitter, where Obama asked people to direct tweets to their congressmen to get them to come to an agreement on setting the debt ceiling with the #compromise hashtag, Obama lost 36,000 followers. Research by PeopleBrowsr found that chatter concerning Obama attracted nearly twice as many negative posts as positive ones on Twitter—but a good number of them were neutral (full research to be published in the 8/15/2011 issue of PR News).

In the wake of the debt-ceiling fiasco, Congress is in dire need of an image overhaul. Perhaps they’ve raised the debt ceiling high enough to allot the services of a PR firm to help restore its sullied image. If an agency were hired to try to restore the image of Congress, what would it do first?

  • Mary Jane Guffey

    Party extremists aside, the divide in Congress is fundamental, not image-related. It reflects a national disagreement about the role of government and economic policy. Communications won’t resolve this issue, but it can help to convey leadership.

    Ideally, a group of leaders from both parties would make a pledge that acknowledges these key challenges, promises to offer plans that address the issues holistically, and commit to substantive, transparent debates so that voters can weigh policy alternatives.

    Such an approach would leave plenty of room for partisan maneuvering as it reassures voters and international markets.