While the results of a Gallup poll last week shouldn’t give any sitting member of Congress great cause for optimism, they do affirm a pervasive feature of the American political zeitgeist: It’s easier to hate everyone else’s Congressional delegates than it is to hate your own.
While the poll indicates few incumbent Congressmen seeking to hold on to their seats should feel safe in 2014, it does reveal that people have an innate tendency to sympathize with their own elected leaders’ shortcomings more than the shortcomings of elected officials hailing from other States.
According to Gallup’s annual “Mood of the Nation” poll, 46 of Americans said they will vote for their Congressional incumbents again — and that’s a record low. But it’s still a more favorable approval rating than Americans have for Congress as a whole: Only 17 percent of those questioned said that “most members of Congress” should be re-elected.
From the summary:
The legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase “all politics is local,” a dictum that guided his Democratic majorities against Republican electoral waves in the 1980s. More generally, the saying describes the local versus national phenomenon that also occurs when the public is asked about such things as healthcare, education, and crime. But now that adage rings less true as voters see their own U.S. representative in the same way that they see most other members of Congress — as not deserving re-election.
Relative to previous polls, that’s true. But local sympathies still win out over generalizations. With the gap in public opinion closing in, however, 2014 could be a tumultuous election in which some incumbents defy expectations by surviving brutal campaigns, while others fall to insurgents from both sides of the political spectrum who promise not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.
“Typically, results like these have presaged significant turnover in Congress, such as in 1994, 2006, and 2010,” Gallup observes. “So Congress could be headed for a major shake-up in its membership this fall. However, unlike those three years, when one party controlled both houses of Congress, the beneficiary of the anti-incumbent sentiment is not clear in the current situation, in which one party controls the House and the other, the Senate.”
Whatever the outcome, expect most of the real turnover to occur in the primaries, when partisan voters get their chance to exact righteous vengeance by ousting the incumbents and replacing them with newcomers who’ve risen within the same political party.