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U.S. Voters Favor Congressional Newcomers Over Incumbents

U.S. Voters Favor Congressional Newcomers Over Incumbents

Sixty percent say they would rather vote for candidate with no congressional experience

PRINCETON, NJ -- Registered voters are nearly twice as likely to say they would rather vote for a congressional candidate with no prior experience in Congress as to say they would vote for one who has previously served in Congress. This view, however, is not shared by all party groups, as Democrats are slightly more likely to favor a candidate with congressional experience.

Would You Rather Vote for a Candidate Who Has Been in Congress or a Candidate Who Has Never Been in Congress?

These party differences may reflect the fact that Democrats currently hold the majority of seats in Congress, so the more incumbents who are re-elected, presumably the better for the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, only as many as one in four independents or Republicans seem to place a high value on congressional experience this year.

The pro-newcomer point of view has already been apparent in nominating primaries or conventions this election year, as voters have defeated several long-serving senators and House members from both parties.

Because the question asking voters to choose between a candidate who has served and one who has not served in Congress had not been asked prior to the recent May 24-25 USA Today/Gallup poll, it is not clear whether the preference for congressional newcomers is higher or lower than it has been in the past. However, the poll did include two questions Gallup has tracked since the 1992 elections, and the results of these questions reveal that anti-incumbent sentiment is near record highs.

Specifically, 32% of voters say "most members of Congress" deserve re-election, historically one of the lowest levels Gallup has measured. The latest update is, however, a slight improvement from the record-low 28% Gallup measured earlier this year.

1992-2010 Trend: Do Most Members of Congress Deserve Re-Election?

Again, this sentiment is not shared across the political spectrum, as 53% of Democrats, compared with 16% of Republicans and 18% of independents, believe most members of Congress should be re-elected this year.

As is usually the case, voters are more charitable when rating their own members of Congress than they are when rating "most members." Whereas 32% of voters say most members deserve re-election, 50% say their own member does. Still, this latter number ranks among the lowest percentages endorsing their own representative for another term that Gallup has measured, just two percentage points above the all-time low of 48% from October 1992.

1992-2010 Trend: Does the U.S. Representative in Your Congressional District Deserve Re-Election?

Party differences are less pronounced when it comes to evaluating one's own representative, as 61% of Democrats, 51% of Republicans, and 40% of independents think their own member of Congress deserves re-election.


A stronger-than-usual anti-incumbent bias is another challenge for a majority Democratic Party that is trying to minimize the losses usually dealt to the president's party in a midterm election year. Gallup's Daily tracking of registered-voter candidate preferences this year has typically shown Republicans and Democrats tied or the Republicans with a slight lead, either of which would generally predict a strong Republican showing at the polls on Election Day.

That day is still nearly five months away, but typically, voters' attitudes toward incumbents do not change dramatically over the course of an election year. To the extent change has occurred in a given election year, it has usually been toward a more negative rather than a more positive view of incumbents.

Survey Methods

Results from this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 24-25, 2010, with a random sample of 946 registered voters aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit dial sampling.

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 150 cell phone respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted on the basis of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone only status, cell phone mostly status and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 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

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