Fire Congress, but not my congressman

The nation is in an extraordinarily anti-incumbent mood.

A record-high 76 percent of Americans say most members of Congress don’t deserve to be reelected, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. That number has actually risen since the panicked days after the debt ceiling showdown. But in a sort of Lake Wobegon effect, a 51 percent majority believes their own House representative deserves another term.

The schism between views of Congress overall and of one’s own congressman is larger in 2011 than at any point in the past two decades. Indeed, the percentage saying their own representative deserves to be reelected has fallen about 10 percentage points since the mid-2000s, while the number saying the same about “most members of Congress” has plummeted more than 30 points.

Buoyant ratings of home district representatives help to explain the high reelection rates for House members. Upwards of 80 percent of House members were victorious in every election since 1964, according to the nonpartisan Web site Even with the high reelection rates, however, persistently negative ratings of Congress can still have a big political impact. Party control over the House has switched twice in the last three elections.

Who is the 1 percent?

The income gap

This year, the Occupy Wall Street movement brought income inequality – particularly the incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans – into sharp focus. A Gallup analysis of three years of surveys finds that the “1 percent” is somewhat more Republican and less Democratic than other Americans, but the super-rich closely resemble the overall public in their political ideology.

Some 33 percent of those earning $500,000 or more annually identify toward the Republican Party (compared with 28 percent of other Americans). And top earners are 7 points less likely to be Democrats (26 vs. 33 percent for other adults). Ideologically, about four in 10 of both groups say their political views are conservative, and two in 10 identify as liberals.

While the very wealthy are not remarkably different from other Americans in their political affiliations, a Northwestern University pilot study found that those in the Chicago area were much more politically active than others, with a majority saying they had contacted their member of Congress in the last six months. 

Among the biggest differences besides income, 1 percenters boast much higher levels of education than other adults. Fully 72 percent of top earners in Gallup’s polling have a college degree, more than double the number among the rest of adults (31 percent). Those in the top 1 percent are three times as likely to have a post-graduate degree.

In case you missed it: More than six in 10 Americans in a November Washington Post-ABC News poll recognized a widening gap between the wealthy and the less well off. Democrats and independents largely support government policies to reduce the wealth gap, while most Republicans oppose such action.

Pennsylvanians back Paterno firing

Joe Paterno

Pennsylvania registered voters agree with Penn State’s firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno by a 52 to 43 percent margin in a Quinnipiac poll released Friday. Views on the dismissal of university president Graham Spanier were less divided: Nearly three-quarters agreed with the decision to remove him.

On balance, Paterno received somewhat more favorable than unfavorable ratings in the poll, and men rated him positively by a nearly 2 to 1 margin (53 percent favorable, 29 percent unfavorable). Women tilted negative, and slight majorities of both men and women agreed with the decision to fire him.

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