The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The one number from the Pew poll that should scare every incumbent

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Conventional wisdom about Congressional elections goes something like this: Yes, everyone hates the institution and wants to "throw the bums out". But they like their Member and keep voting to re-elect him or her.

True enough.  Incumbent re-election rates are regularly over 90 percent even in years when there are tons of seats switching parties.  In the 2006 election, when Democrats re-took the House majority, 94 percent of incumbent still won. In the 2010 election, where Republicans picked up 63 seats, 85 percent of incumbents still won.

And yet, there's a new number in a national Pew poll that should give incumbents who assume that people hating Congress will exempt them in the next election some pause.  That number? Thirty eight percent -- as in 38 percent of people who say they do not want to see their own Member of Congress re-elected in 2014.  While that number is far lower than the 74 percent who say they would like to see most Members of Congress lose, it's still the highest percentage wanting to get rid of their own member in more than two decades of Pew polling.

That stat has to be -- or at least should be -- concerning to incumbents in both parties particularly given, as Pew notes, that at this time in the 2010 election -- when 58 incumbents lost -- just 29 percent of respondents said they wanted to replace their own Member of Congress.  Things might return to "normal" -- hate Congress, love your Member -- well before the 2014 midterms. But, we are currently in the midst of historically poor ratings for Congress, meaning that depending on "how things have always been" could be a major miscalculation.