America prepares to reelect the Congress it loathes

An important reminder from Gallup: Very, very few people think that Congress is doing a good job. An important reminder from us: Nearly everyone in Congress will be reelected anyway.

Gallup looked at several indicators that serve as a guide to how the midterm selection will shake out. Among them, of course, is approval -- the percentage of Americans that think Congress is doing a good job. "The election environment for congressional incumbents in 2014 will be challenging," Gallup's Jeffrey Jones writes, thanks in part to an approval rating for Congress that is at 16 percent, "on pace to be the lowest in a midterm election year since Gallup first measured it in 1974."

The lowest approval rate prior to 2014 was in the Republican wave of 1994, when only 22 percent of Americans approved of the job that Congress was doing. And that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, "only" 90 percent of Congress won reelection. That's all. Just nine-in-ten.

There's a very slight correlation between job approval and reelection rates. Very slight. Here's how Gallup approval has compared to House reelection in midterms since 1974.


Never below 80 percent. Hardly the sort of thing to keep members of Congress up at night.

As we noted earlier this year, the vast majority of House races in 2014 -- 90 percent of them, at the time -- feature a heavily favorited the front-runner which, in most cases, was the incumbent. There are a lot of reasons for this, including districts weighted to one party or the other by gerrymandering and the self sorting of the population into ideological silos. But the main reason is that people tend to reelect their own members of Congress, regardless of how they feel about Congress on the whole.  (They pay very little attention to politics and vote for the name they know over the one they don't.) In January, Gallup reported that the number of people who wanted to reelect their own representatives was at a record low, but that doesn't appear to be widely reflected in polling.

Of course, we can always be surprised.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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