Americans might be mad as hell at Congress — but they’re going to keep taking it.
Consider these two facts:
1: Congressional approval is at 11 percent, as measured by the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll.
2: Exactly zero incumbent candidates — for the Senate or House — have lost a primary race in this midterm cycle. In Tuesday’s congressional primaries, incumbents went 45 for 45, and establishment Republicans won easy victories against their tea-party rivals. Despite how much voters say they hate the current Congress, they still like them better than their primary challengers.
Now, these are just primary elections. Come November, the incumbents could lose out to the other party. That’s especially true for Senate Democrats. As Charlie Cook has explained, “A survey of the national landscape finds that open Democratic seats in South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, West Virginia will be extremely difficult for the party to hold.”
So what gives with these primary results?
Incumbent reelection rates are rarely responsive to public opinion of Congress. Even in years when congressional approval tanks, incumbent turnover holds steady.
For one, overall congressional approval numbers don’t extrapolate well. Voters elect solely their own representatives, and their ballots aren’t necessarily a referendum on the entire legislative body. Last May, when congressional approval was at 13 percent, Gallup found about 46 percent approved of the job their representative was doing. This April, the AP asked a similar question, and found that while just 16 percent approved of Congress, 39 percent said they would like to see their member reelected. Of those who are most politically engaged, that figure was 44 percent.
Also, in recent years districts have become “safer” for political parties due to redistricting, as you can see in the sliding graphic to the right.
What’s becoming apparent now is that even the historically low approval of Congress during the government shutdown — Gallup had it as low as 9 percent — can’t shake this incumbent advantage. House reelection rates, in most cycles, are higher than 90 percent, according to OpenSecrets. For the Senate, those numbers are only slightly lower.
The Senate may very well flip to the Republicans, over a handful of seats, but the majority of the faces in the chamber will be the same.
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Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”