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No Unusual Desire to See Members of Congress Re-Elected

No Unusual Desire to See Members of Congress Re-Elected

Story Highlights

  • 50% of voters say their member of Congress deserves re-election
  • 29% say the same about "most" members of Congress
  • Republicans more positive than Democrats on these measures

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Half of registered voters heading into Tuesday's midterm elections believe their own member of Congress deserves re-election, by one percentage point the lowest Gallup has recorded in its final pre-election poll over the past seven midterm elections. Just 29% of voters say most members deserve re-election. The latter indicator of support for incumbents is up slightly from 23% in 2014 but is otherwise on the low end of Gallup's trend from recent midterms.

Line graph. Half of U.S. registered voters say their local representative in Congress deserves re-election.

In 1998 and 2002, the two election years when voters were most positive about re-electing members of Congress, the party occupying the White House upset precedent and gained rather than lost seats. The current data do not suggest an environment this year that would be conducive to a replication of that result.

The well-established pattern by which American voters are more positive about their local member of Congress than about Congress as a whole is evident in these trends. In Gallup's Oct. 15-28 interviewing, 50% of registered voters said their local member deserves re-election, compared with 29% who said "most members of Congress" deserve re-election.

Both re-election indicators were much higher in 1998, when the Democrats gained seats with a Democratic president in office, and in 2002, when the Republicans gained seats with a Republican president. These results went along with high presidential job approval ratings in those two years and were consistent with other indicators of positive voter sentiment that helped explain the outcome.

The relatively low levels of public support for Congress as a whole and for voters' own local representative this year, coupled with President Donald Trump's relatively low approval rating (40%) and other indicators, point to an environment likely to result in business as usual in 2018: the party of the president losing seats in a midterm election.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are significantly more likely to say that both their member and most members of Congress deserve re-election than are Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Republicans control both houses of Congress (and the presidency) at this point, and Republican voters give Congress a higher job approval rating than do Democrats.

Republicans More Positive Than Democrats on Re-Election of Local Representative and Most Members of Congress
Registered voters: % yes, deserve re-election
Republicans/Leaners Democrats/Leaners
% %
U.S. representative in your district 60 45
Most members of Congress 38 21
GALLUP, Oct. 15-28, 2018

In October 2014, with a divided government -- Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, but Republicans in control of the House -- the sentiments of Republicans and Democrats were essentially equal. But in the 2010 and 2006 elections, one party controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, as is the case today. In both of those years, voters who identified with the party in control were significantly more positive on both re-elect measures than those in the out-of-power party.

Bottom Line

Voters' desires to see their member of Congress and most members of Congress re-elected are near the low end of where these indicators have been before midterm elections dating back to 1994, reinforcing the conclusion that Republicans have a low probability of gaining seats rather than losing them, as is usually the case for the party of the president in midterms. Of course, even with the good chance that Democrats will gain seats, the real issue in this election is whether they will gain enough to take control of the House, something these results don't help answer with precision.

The somewhat more positive "deserve re-election" sentiments among Republicans could suggest they will be highly motivated to turn out to preserve their majority. But the less positive attitudes among Democrats could just as logically suggest they too will be highly motivated to turn out in an attempt to change party control of Congress.

It is certain that most incumbents running this year will be re-elected, as is almost always the case -- despite the quite negative views that Americans have toward Congress as a body. The current results help explain this phenomenon. Although just half of voters say their representative deserves re-election, this is still considerably higher than the percentage who feel the same way about "most" members. American voters clearly reserve somewhat more positive sentiments about their local representative even if they are part of a much more negatively evaluated body in Washington.

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