Story Highlights

  • 64% say major donors have a lot of influence on congressional votes
  • By contrast, only 14% say people in districts have a lot of influence
  • These views are universal regardless of party identification

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Large majorities of Americans believe that major donors and lobbyists have a significant amount of influence on how members of Congress vote on legislation, while far fewer think members' constituents have this much influence.

How much influence do you think each of the following has on how members of Congress vote on legislation?
A lot A fair amount Only a little None No opinion
% % % % %
Major donors 64 21 10 3 2
Lobbyists 55 24 14 4 2
Party leaders in Congress 45 33 17 2 1
People in the district they represent 14 29 49 6 2
Gallup, June 1-5, 2016

These results, based on Gallup poll data collected June 1-5, help illustrate the nature of the contentious relationship between Americans and the elected officials who represent them in Congress. Of the four groups asked about, Americans perceive that major donors have the most influence -- 64% say they have "a lot" of influence -- followed by lobbyists (55%). Slightly less than half of U.S. adults (45%) say that party leaders in Congress have a lot of influence on voting decisions, while one in seven (14%) believe that constituents have the same level of influence.

Americans' responses to this direct question present a different view of the public's concerns about Congress compared with their answers to an open-ended question about why they rate Congress' performance as "poor" or "bad." The results of that question revealed a top-of-mind focus on Congress' inability to compromise and get things done, while these results help show possible reasons for Americans' perceptions of congressional inaction.

In the current study, perceptions of the extent to which each of the four groups has a lot of influence are unrelated to party identification. Similar percentages of Republicans, independents and Democrats say that each of the four groups has a major influence on congressional voting.

How much influence do you think each of the following has on how members of Congress vote on legislation? (by party ID)
% A lot
Republicans Independents Democrats Total
% % % %
Major donors 67 63 62 64
Lobbyists 59 55 53 55
Party leaders in Congress 46 46 45 45
People in the district they represent 14 14 14 14
Gallup, June 1-5, 2016

The extent of a person's political knowledge and how much attention he or she pays to the news media do make a difference in these evaluations. Gallup constructed an index of political knowledge using five questions, with the score ranging from zero to 5 based on a person's number of correct answers. The questions cover five basic facts about Congress, its leadership and its operations.

Those who are the most knowledgeable (i.e., have the highest scores on the index) are more likely than less knowledgeable Americans to say major donors, lobbyists and party leaders in Congress have a lot of influence on voting decisions. By contrast, only 8% of the most knowledgeable -- versus 18% of the least knowledgeable -- believe that the people in members' districts have this same level of influence. These data confirm the same basic patterns found in previous research showing that the most knowledgeable Americans are the most negative about Congress.

How much influence do you think each of the following has on how members of Congress vote on legislation? (by political knowledge score)
% A lot
Very knowledgeable (4-5) Somewhat knowledgeable (2-3) Not very knowledgeable (0-1) Total
% % % %
Major donors 78 75 49 64
Lobbyists 78 62 40 55
Party leaders in Congress 59 49 36 45
People in the district they represent 8 13 18 14
Gallup, June 1-5, 2016

Bottom Line

Previous research shows Americans are highly likely to agree with statements asserting that financial contributors, lobbyists and special interests have too much influence over members of Congress. The current findings reinforce this basic understanding of the way in which Americans view their elected representatives, and provide context for the low levels of confidence that Americans have in their members of Congress. U.S. adults are more than four times as likely to say major donors have a lot of influence on congressional voting as to say the same about congressional constituents, and those views are more pronounced among Americans who know the most about how Congress works.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Michael W. Traugott, Ph.D., is a Gallup Senior Scientist.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 1-5, 2016, with a random sample of 1,027 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Gallup