Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Congress in a Wordle

Dysfunctional, Corrupt, Selfish….

Late on Sunday, March 22, the House of Representatives voted to approve a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health care system. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law promptly, as well as fixes to the legislation also passed by the House if those changes are approved by the Senate.

Shortly before the House vote, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to provide the one word that best describes their current impressions of Congress. The results were overwhelmingly negative. Of those offering a response, 86% said something negative while just 4% gave a positive one-word description. The three most frequently offered terms were dysfunctional (21 people offered this), corrupt (20) and some version of selfish (19). Many of the words reflected perceptions that Congress has been unable or unwilling to enact legislation (inept, confusing, gridlock, etc.).

Please note that the figures shown in the chart represent the actual number — not the percentage — of people offering each word. With such a wide range of terms volunteered, no single word was offered by more than 3% of the 749 people asked the question.

To illustrate the public’s impressions of Congress, responses were entered into Wordle, a website that generates “word clouds” from text provided by the user. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Therefore, the word shown with the largest lettering is “dysfunctional,” while a word rarely cited, “liberal” is much smaller.

Also please note, not all words offered are included in the box to the right. For all responses entered into the word cloud, please see the topline at

— Richard C. Auxier, Pew Research Center

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