This Is the Poll Members of Congress Should Worry About

Voters dislike Congress as a whole, yes. But now a record low of voters think their own members should get reelected.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Jan. 24, 2014, 5:20 a.m.

It’s the old ad­age in polit­ic­al sci­ence: Amer­ic­ans hate Con­gress but like their con­gress­man. But that might be chan­ging.

Ac­cord­ing to a new Gal­lup Poll, a re­cord low of people say their mem­ber of Con­gress de­serves reelec­tion. Among re­gistered voters, just 46 per­cent say the mem­ber from their con­gres­sion­al dis­trict should get reelec­ted.

This trend shows that voters no longer see their mem­ber as strictly a loc­al rep­res­ent­at­ive fight­ing for that dis­trict but as a par­ti­cipant in the broad­er Con­gress, who is not ne­ces­sar­ily work­ing in their best in­terests.

Now, the first part of the old equa­tion is still true: Amer­ic­ans really don’t like the rest of Con­gress. Along with over­all sup­port of Con­gress be­ing in­cred­ibly low, the poll, con­duc­ted between Jan. 5 and 8, shows that only 17 per­cent of re­gistered voters think that most mem­bers of Con­gress de­serve reelec­tion. The his­tor­ic­al av­er­age of voters who think the ma­jor­ity of mem­bers de­serve reelec­tion hovered around 39 per­cent but has dropped sharply since early 2008, around the time of the eco­nom­ic crisis.

Over­all, this poll is sig­ni­fic­ant in that it shows pub­lic frus­tra­tions with the di­vis­ive­ness and un­pro­duct­ive­ness of Con­gress con­tin­ue to seep in­to in­di­vidu­al races. However — and this will be where this poll mat­ters — the way some dis­tricts have been re­drawn in re­cent years might not even al­low a change in in­cum­bents be­cause the parties are so set in stone.

This factor only ac­counts for the gen­er­al elec­tions, though. The strong sen­ti­ment among voters might trans­late in­to primary chal­lenges. That’s where the op­por­tun­ity is for many of these voters, and that’s where a lot of the move­ment has taken place. The poll shows that an equal num­ber (18 per­cent) of re­gistered Demo­crat­ic voters and Re­pub­lic­an voters say most mem­bers de­serve reelec­tion. This frus­tra­tion is not aimed at parties but at in­di­vidu­al mem­bers.

Will there be a huge party turnover in Con­gress dur­ing the midterms? Not likely. But are some mem­bers at risk of get­ting a ser­i­ous primary chal­lenge? Quite pos­sibly, and that’s why mem­bers should pay at­ten­tion to this poll.

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