PRINCETON, NJ -- The environment for congressional incumbents seeking re-election may be more challenging in 2014. With six months to go before the midterms, 22% of U.S. registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, and 72% say they do not. The "deserve re-election" figure is on pace to be the lowest Gallup has measured in an election year.
These results are based on an April 24-30 Gallup poll of 1,336 registered voters. The percentage of voters saying most incumbents deserve re-election is up slightly from the 17% Gallup measured in January. But even with the slight increase, the current 22% is lower than Gallup has measured in any other election year. The only other sub-30% readings before this year were 29% in October 1992 and 28% in both March 2010 and June 2010.
Democratic registered voters (28%) are slightly more likely than Republican registered voters (22%) to say most members of Congress deserve re-election. Independent voters, at 16%, are least likely to believe this.
U.S. voters as a whole are more positive about their own member of Congress than about most members of Congress, as they have been since Gallup first asked these items in 1992. Currently, 50% of voters say their own member deserves re-election. This, too, is slightly more positive than in January (46%), but is similar to levels observed at the time of the elections in 1992, 1994, 2006, and 2010. Most of these years saw relatively high turnover in Congress.
Republican (53%), Democratic (52%), and independent (47%) registered voters are about equally likely to say their own member deserves re-election.
The weak re-election figures also correspond with Congress' feeble job approval rating, at 15% in the new May 8-11 Gallup poll. That is also on the low end of what Gallup has measured in past election years.
Congressional Shake-Up on the Horizon?
A logical consequence of such dim views of Congress and its incumbents is that voters may take out their frustrations at the ballot box. Incumbent members of Congress are generally quite successful in getting re-elected, with roughly nine in 10 of those who seek re-election winning. However, the re-election rate tends to be lower in years when voters are less apt to think their own member or most members of Congress deserve re-election.
For example, in 1992 and 2010, when roughly 30% of registered voters thought most members of Congress deserved re-election and half thought their own member did, the incumbent re-election rate in the House of Representatives was lower than 90%. In turn, in the 1998-2002 elections, when U.S. voters were much more positive toward Congress, the re-election rates were 96% or higher.
One way to summarize the relationship between the "deserves re-election" measures and congressional turnover is to compute correlations, which provide a measure of association between two variables. Correlations near 1.0 indicate a strong positive relationship between the variables and scores near zero indicate no relationship whatsoever. The correlation between Gallup's "most members deserve re-election" item at the time of the election and actual incumbent re-election rates is .83 in all elections since 1992, and .87 in the five midterm elections in that time period. The correlation between the "own member" item and incumbent re-election rates is .86 in all elections and .87 in midterm elections.
Thus, the relatively low percentages of American voters saying members of Congress deserve re-election suggest that incumbents may be less successful than usual in winning re-election this year, being vulnerable to defeat by a challenger from their own party in their primary election or from the opposition party in the general election.
Even though the vast majority of congressional incumbents who are seeking re-election this year will win, the likelihood of an incumbent winning appears as if it is on track to be lower than usual. The percentage of registered voters who think most members of Congress and their own member deserve re-election are at or near lows compared with prior election years, which indicates a more challenging environment for incumbents.
It is possible that voters' attitudes toward Congress will change between now and November, and thus more will believe congressional representatives deserve re-election. Historically, though, these measures do not change much during an election year, and when they have -- such as in 1992 and 2006 -- they have generally become more negative rather than more positive.
Divided party control of Congress is a complicating factor for voters looking to take out their frustrations on Congress by voting against incumbents, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a Democratic majority in the Senate. The same situation presented itself in the 2012 elections, when the incumbent re-election rate was 90% in a year in which voters were only a bit more positive than now toward incumbents.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 24-30, 2014, with a random sample of 1,336 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, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.