F&M Analysis of Legislative Job Performance

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Franklin & Marshall College Poll

An Analysis of State Legislature Job Performance

Governor Ed Rendell delivered his final budget recommendation to the Pennsylvania legislature on Tuesday, which is likely to provoke another round of vigorous debate. Much has been made of the low job performance of the state legislature ever since the legislative pay hike of July 2005 angered Pennsylvanians. In reality, there has been consistency in some aspects of the legislature’s job performance since the question was first asked in a Franklin & Marshall College Poll (formerly the Keystone Poll) in July 1999. Most striking has been the stability in the percentage who rate the legislature as doing an "excellent" job. Surprisingly, the range is quite limited–between zero percent and three percent–regardless of the political environment or the legislature’s activities. A second relatively stable element of job performance is evident among those who say the legislature is doing "only a fair" job. Over the span of 12 polls, only a 12-point difference exists between the lowest and the highest percentage–46 percent in June 2007 and 58 percent in August 2009.

In the late 1990s and into the final years of Republican Governor Tom Ridge’s tenure (1995-2003), the legislature was solidly in Republican hands. State budgets were routinely passed well before the June 30 constitutional deadline and surpluses allowed for the expansion of state spending with little fanfare. Additionally, the legislature had few of the controversies that would beset it in 2005 and the years that followed. The legislature’s job performance ratings reflect this changing political climate. The largest percentage change took place among those who rate the legislature’s job performance as "poor," which rose significantly from a low of seven percent in February 2000 to a high of 30 percent in October 2009 following the adoption of a 101-day late budget. Furthermore, the percentage of those who said the legislature does a "good" job declined from 33 percent in February 2000 to 14 percent in October 2009–a significant 19-point decrease.

Excellent job Good
job Only a fair job Poor
job Don’t know
Jan 2010 0% 16% 51% 23% 10%
Oct 2009 1% 14% 48% 30% 7%
Aug 2009 0% 18% 58% 20% 4%
Jun 2009 1% 26% 49% 18% 6%
Aug 2007 1% 25% 53% 16% 5%
Jun 2007 1% 25% 46% 21% 7%
Feb 2007 1% 23% 48% 18% 10%
May 2006 1% 19% 51% 22% 7%
Sep 2005* 1% 21% 47% 22% 8%
Nov 2003* 1% 22% 55% 17% 5%
Feb 2000* 3% 33% 49% 7% 9%
Jul 1999* 2% 33% 49% 10% 6%
* Question asked of all respondents regardless of registration status

G. Terry Madonna is Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and the Center for Politics and Public Affairs.