Voters have lost faith in Congress — but not in their member of Congress

Yet another poll shows very lousy numbers for Congress. But there's a silver lining.

This time it's a new Gallup survey released Monday that shows just 19 percent of voters say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected -- on pace to set a record low. Oh, and Congress's approval rating? An abysmal 13 percent.

(Chart via Gallup)
(Chart via Gallup)

That's the bad news for members of Congress. Here's the good, er, better news: When asked whether their own representative deserve another term, voters are much more forgiving. Fifty percent say yes.

(Chart via Gallup)
(Chart via Gallup)

The disparity between how people feel about Congress as a whole and how they feel about their own member illustrates why just looking solely at the first number does never tells the whole story when it comes to incumbent turnover. Voters are fed up, but when push comes to shove, well -- they tend to say their member is doing okay.

That's not to say the numbers shouldn't worry incumbents this fall. As Aaron Blake pointed out earlier this year, over the last two decades, anti-incumbent sentiment has correlated with higher turnover in Congress. And 19 percent and 50 percent are low numbers relative to recent years, as the above charts show.

And for the first time in a quarter century of Washington Post-ABC News polling, a majority said in a recent survey that they disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing.

But while voters may disapprove of them, these numbers suggest they're probably still going to vote for them anyway. And so we're probably not going to see 30 or 40 percent of incumbents lose. Even in big anti-incumbent years, as Aaron noted, the re-election rate is still in the 85 to 90 percent range.

It's very hard to unseat an incumbent. Even in a year like this.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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