PRINCETON, NJ — About one in five U.S. registered voters (21%) say most members of Congress deserve re-election, the lowest percentage Gallup has found in the 20-year history of asking this question. The prior lows of 28% were recorded in 2010 and earlier this year.
The percentage who say most members of Congress deserve re-election is slightly higher, 24%, among the larger population of national adults than among the eligible voting electorate.
The findings are from an Aug. 4-7 USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in the days after Congress and the president reached an agreement on legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling, but before Monday’s 600-point drop in the stock market.
Gallup has asked whether most members of Congress deserve re-election leading up to prior congressional elections, and has found lower support for incumbents’ re-election usually precedes significant turnover of congressional seats in the coming election, such as in 1992, 1994, 2006, 2008, and 2010. Although Congress has experienced significant change in the past three elections, voters still remain dissatisfied with the performance of that institution.
Independent voters are especially critical of Congress, with 14% saying most members deserve re-election, compared with 24% of Republican and 26% of Democratic voters. Democrats and independents are significantly less likely now than in May (36% and 23%, respectively, at that time) to endorse re-electing most members of Congress, while Republicans (26% in May) show only a minimal decline.
Majority of Voters Would Re-Elect Their Own Member of Congress
Voters are more charitable in their evaluations of their own member of Congress, with 54% saying he or she deserves re-election, compared with 57% in May. The electorate has consistently been more likely to say their member of Congress deserves re-election than to say most members do. However, even though a majority believes their own representative should be re-elected, the current percentage is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically. The lowest readings were 48% in October 1992 and 49% on two occasions in 2010.
President Obama Appears No Worse for Wear After Debt Debate
The poll finds voters about evenly divided as to whether President Barack Obama deserves re-election, with 47% saying he does and 50% saying he does not. Those figures are unchanged compared with May of this year, but better than Gallup measured last October.
That 47% re-elect number matches the president’s approval rating in the Aug. 4-7 USA Today/Gallup poll, which is essentially unchanged from the prior measurement of 45% in July. His approval rating from Gallup Daily tracking for Aug. 5-7 was 43%. The USA Today/Gallup poll estimate may be slightly higher given that a substantial proportion of interviews were conducted Aug. 4, prior to Standard & Poor’s downgrading the U.S. credit rating.
Obama Again Competitive With “The Republican Party’s Candidate”
Additionally, Obama now has a 45% to 39% edge when voters are asked to say whether they are more likely to vote for him or for the Republican presidential candidate in the 2012 election. For much of the year, Obama and the “generic” Republican were closely matched on this measure, though in the last two months the Republican had an advantage.
This month, Gallup for the first time included a follow-up measure of undecided voters, asking if they leaned more toward Obama or the Republican candidate. When the “leanings” of undecided voters are taken into account, Obama maintains an edge, 49% to 45%, with 6% not expressing a preference or leaning for Obama or the Republican candidate.
Americans’ frustrations with Congress — already at high levels — appear to have grown with a record number of voters saying most members of Congress do not deserve re-election. If those numbers do not improve substantially between now and November 2012, Congress could be in for another major shake-up in its membership.
President Obama is also far from assured of re-election himself, with fewer than half of voters saying he deserves re-election. However, he did seem to emerge from the intense debt ceiling negotiations in no worse shape than before — from an electoral perspective — and perhaps in a better position given the movement in his favour against the “Republican Party’s presidential candidate.”
Still, that could be a very short-lived benefit to the president. The poll was conducted prior to Monday’s steep drop in U.S. stocks, and Obama’s latest Gallup Daily tracking approval average including Monday interviewing fell to 40%, tying his low in that trend. Continued economic problems could change the re-election environment for Obama, particularly if it triggers a double-dip recession in the coming months.
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 4-7, 2011, with a random sample of 1,319 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The poll included an oversample of 376 blacks. The data are weighted to be demographically representative of the national adult population and to reflect the proper proportion of blacks in the overall population.
For results based on the total sample of 1,204 registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.