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Poll: Anti-Incumbent Wave-Like Conditions Brewing

(Chicago) – Poll: Congressional incumbents seeking re-election face potential wave-like conditions in 2014.

With six months 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 measured in an election year, according to a new Gallup poll.

Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones outlines the grim political environment:

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.

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.

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.

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. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.


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