With brain-numbing regularity we hear that Congress rates terribly among Americans. Congress is less popular than both Donald Trump and the Canadian rock outfit Nickelback. It's less popular than head lice. These reports aren't wrong, but they tend to mask, or distract from, what we say about what makes Congress so consistently unpopular. Enter today's Reason poll, which asked 1,000 Americans to describe Congress with a single word — and it wasn't a multiple-choice kind of survey. The results:

  • 40 percent chose "Incompetent," "Inept," "Terrible" or "Bad"  
  • 13 percent chose "Partisan," "Uncompromising" or "Stubborn"
  • 11 percent chose "Greedy," "Selfish" or "Corrupt"
  • 5 percent chose "Childish," "Immature" or "Irresponsible"

(Just 3 percent described Congress as either "honest" or "dedicated," while 4 percent described the body as "excellent," "good" or "okay.")

This word-association game is illuminating. The biggest group among Congress's critics thinks they're just bad at their job — out of their league — rather than willfully obstinate or inherently evil. There's something hopeful in thinking that, if Congress tried a bit harder and gave it their best shot, they'd actually get something done.