By Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — House members at home for August recess might want to hide their congressional pins: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds a record-high share of Americans disapprove of their own members of Congress.
Just over half the public, 51 percent, say they disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing in the new poll, rising above the 50 percent threshold for the first time in the quarter-century of Post-ABC polling on this question. Just 41 percent approve. That’s a new low, though it’s not significantly different from ratings last October (43 percent), immediately after the end of a 16-day partial government shutdown that sent Republican approval ratings through the floor.
This all might not seem that surprising. After all, Congress has been held in very low regard for some time. But even as Congress’s approval rating has sunk into the teens and stuck there, people generally saw their own member of Congress as different — i.e., not part of the problem. A recent Pew poll, for instance, showed 69 percent of people wanted to unseat most members of Congress, but just 36 percent said the same of their own member.
The new numbers, which show Americans disapproving by their own member by double digits, suggest the people are less willing to give their own member a pass for Congress’s sins.
The poll also finds, as usual, the Democrats’ brand fares better than the Republicans’ brand three months before the midterms, with 49 percent holding favorable views of the Democratic Party and 35 percent having a favorable view of the GOP.
But Democrats’ reputation edge is not expected to translate to big gains at the ballot box in November, with other polls showing 1) a much tighter race in whether voters plan to cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans, and 2) lower enthusiasm for voting among important Democratic-leaning groups. Election forecasters expect Republicans will maintain their majority in the House and say they also have a better than even chance of winning the six seats needed to take the Senate.
Partisans are overwhelmingly loyal to their own camp. Fully 85 percent of Democrats have favorable opinions of their own party, along with 79 percent of Republicans who are favorable toward their own party. Independents are not fond of either party, but are more anti-GOP, with 61 percent disapproving and 31 percent approving. Independents dislike Democrats as well, but by a smaller 50-41 margin.
Despite negative views of incumbent officeholders, the impact on incumbents’ actual reelection hopes is likely modest, with the vast majority of officeholders expected to win reelection in November. But past election cycles do indicate that Americans will unseat more members when they disapprove of their own member. In 1998, when the public gave a 72 percent approval rating to their own member, 98 percent of incumbents won reelection. In 2010, an October Post-ABC poll found only 51 percent approving of their members (then close to a record low), after which 85 percent of incumbents won reelection in November 2010.
Even with lagging popularity, though, incumbents have numerous other advantages that help ward off challengers, including congressional districts which lean toward their party, established fundraising networks, campaign experience and better name recognition than their challengers. They also benefit from voters’ lack of homework; fewer than half the public in a recent Pew Research Center poll (46 percent), could correctly identify the party of their own representative.
But in a year in which no single issue dominates the public’s worries, running against Washington continues to be a solid campaign strategy.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone July 30 to Aug. 3 among a random national sample of 1,029 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.