Anti-Incumbent Mood Against Congress Persists in 2011

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Twenty-eight percent say most members of Congress deserve re-election

PRINCETON, NJ -- Twenty-eight percent of U.S. registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, tying the low point in the trend set last year, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll.

1992-2011 Trend: Please tell me whether you think each of the following political officeholders deserves to be re-elected, or not. How about -- most members of Congress?

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In early May, Gallup found 24% of Americans approving of the job Congress is doing overall, which reflected a rally in support after the death of Osama bin Laden. Congress' approval rating had been below 20% in March and April. Nevertheless, voters' views of Congress in 2011 -- in terms of both approval and support for most members' re-election -- are no better than they were last year, despite the great turnover in the 2010 elections that led to Republicans' taking control of the House of Representatives.

Since 1992, Gallup has typically found more voters saying most members of Congress do not deserve re-election than saying they do. Generally, when higher percentages of voters express these anti-incumbent sentiments, as in 1992, 1994, 2006, and 2010, there is much change in Congress' membership at the next election.

Gallup usually asks the re-election question in election years, rather than in off-years, as is the case in the current poll. However, when Gallup has evaluated voters' willingness to support incumbents in the year before an election -- 2001, 2003, and 2005 -- the data have generally reflected what Gallup found in the succeeding election year.

Democratic voters are more likely than independent or Republican voters to say most members of Congress deserve re-election, even though Republicans now control the House of Representatives. Still, a majority of all three party groups believe most members should not be elected to another term.

Do Most Members of Congress Deserve Re-Election, by Political Party, May 2011

The shift in party control has had an effect, however, as Republicans are more likely, and Democrats less likely, to say most members of Congress deserve re-election than either group was last year.

Most Voters Endorse Their Own Member's Re-Election

Voters are generally more inclined to say their own member deserves re-election than they are to say this about most members. The historical averages are 41% for most members of Congress and 59% for one's own member.

In the current poll, voters remain more charitable toward their own member of Congress, with 57% saying he or she deserves re-election. That is below the historical norm, but a significant improvement over what Gallup measured last year, when an average of 50% said their member deserved re-election. The all-time-low measurement was 48% in 1992.

1992-2011 Trend: Please tell me whether you think each of the following political officeholders deserves to be re-elected, or not. How about -- the U.S. representative in your congressional district?

Republican voters are more likely than Democrats to say their own representative should get another term, with independents much less likely to say this than either major party. In fact, independents are about evenly divided in their views, while Democrats and Republicans show better than 2-to-1 margins in favor of re-electing their local representative.

Does Your Member of Congress Deserve Re-Election, by Political Party, May 2011

Implications

The anti-incumbent mood that led to sweeping changes in Congress after the 2010 elections persists, and the accompanying change in House leadership has not fundamentally altered the way Americans view Congress. Thus, incumbents remain vulnerable heading into the 2012 election cycle, though perhaps not quite as vulnerable as in 2010, given that voters are now more inclined to say their own member deserves re-election.

All incumbent members of the House will be running in newly drawn districts in 2012, further adding to the uncertainty about their future. But significant turnover in Congress may be the "new normal" pattern, given that it has occurred in each of the last three congressional elections.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 12-15, 2011, with a random sample of 897 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone-only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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