PRINCETON, NJ -- Nineteen percent of U.S. registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, roughly the same as in two measures earlier this year. This is on pace to be the lowest such "re-elect" sentiment in a midterm election year over Gallup's history of asking this question since 1992.
The latest update on this measure comes from Gallup's Aug. 7-10 survey in which congressional job approval was 13%, just a few percentage points higher than the all-time low on that measure.
This congressional re-elect measure is related to overall congressional seat change in a midterm election and to the percentage of House members seeking re-election who are returned to Congress. Assuming that these attitudes remain similarly sour over the next 2 1/2 months, history would suggest above-average turnover in Congress in the November elections. Two other years in which this measure was relatively low -- 1994 and 2010 -- saw major shakeups, although the same party (Democrats) controlled the House and the Senate in both of those years, which may have made it easier for voters to take out their frustrations. Still, the 19% of American voters who on average this year say most members do not deserve re-election is significantly lower than in 1994 or 2010, providing a negative general context for the coming elections.
Americans Not as Negative About Their Own Representative
A separate question asks voters if "the U.S. representative in your congressional district" deserves to be re-elected. Currently, 50% of voters say yes, he or she does. This percentage essentially ties with the response to this question in 2010, and is just slightly higher than the 48% in 1992. So while this measure is historically low, it has not dropped to the record-low depths of the "most members" question.
Americans' views of most members of Congress have always been more negative than their views of their own member. But as noted, voters' views this year about most members of Congress have descended to the lowest levels ever seen, while their views of the advisability of re-electing their member, although historically low, are no lower than they have been in previous midterm election years. This has resulted in a 31-percentage-point gap between the re-elect measure for "your member" versus "most members" of Congress -- the widest such gap in a midterm year in Gallup's history. In 2010, for example, the gap in the final poll before that year's elections was 18 points, and in 1994, it was 16 points.
Previous research shows that the "most members" and the "your member" measures are related to the percentage of incumbents seeking re-election who are in fact re-elected. How voters will manifest their historically distinct views of Congress at the national versus the local level this year will be one important key to the outcome of the elections.
Thoughts About Voting for Local Representative Specific to Job
The August survey included two questions asking Americans to explain in their own words why they do or do not think their member deserves re-election this year. Their responses center mainly on assessments of the specific performance of their House member -- including many statements about the member doing a good job or not doing a good job. Those who say their member deserves to be re-elected also mentioned that he or she works for the district, shares the respondent's views, and listens to the people and relates to them. Those who say the member does not deserve re-election also say the member had been in Congress too long and that a change is needed, that the member does not work for the people or the district, that he or she has not followed through on promises, and that he or she only votes the party line.
Americans' responses seem to be quite specific to the performance of their individual representative rather than suggesting they are taking out their broad dissatisfaction with Congress in making a decision on their local vote. In short, it appears Americans are evaluating representatives on how they are doing their job and representing the district, while evaluating the institution as a whole on its collective inability to get much done.
The percentage of American voters who believe most members of Congress deserve re-election is at an all-time low. Their views of whether their own representative deserves re-election are also low, but not nearly as sour as their views of Congress more generally. These negative evaluations of Congress have historically been related to lower rates of incumbent re-election in midterm elections and a higher turnover of congressional seats.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 7-10, 2014, 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For results based on the total sample of 1,032 national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 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.