At this point, it’s not news to say that Congress is unpopular. Heck, we’ve seen the surveys that show that cockroaches, Donald Trump, and dog poo are viewed more favorably than Congress. Somehow, however, these Congress members that we hate keep getting voted back into office. In 2012, 90% of House members that sought re-election won back their seats, despite America’s overall disapproval. How is that possible?
Well, there’s always been one important distinction to explain the phenomenon: people say they actually like their own representative. It’s the other 434 members of the House that are the problem! Blame it on hometown pride, blame it on familiarity, blame it on a sense of loyalty after voting for the particular candidate…whatever the reason, representatives don’t receive nearly as much scrutiny from their own constituents.
According to new poll numbers, however, this disconnect has finally changed. For the first time, American citizens now are willing to lump their own members of congress in with the whole lot and admit that they are part of the problem as well.
Never before in the annual ABC & Washington Post poll, which began more than 25 years ago, have the results shown the majority dissatisfied with their sitting congressperson. The fact that 51% of Americans are opposed to their own representatives shows a significant shift in our tolerance for D.C. buffoonery.
Do these new polling numbers indicate that we’ll see fewer incumbents get elected this November? Quite possibly – so long as our expectations remain low. The poll has generally correlated with the rates that incumbents win House seats. When members of Congress had peak approval in 1998, 98% of incumbents won back their positions. When Americans disliked their own representatives the least (prior to now) in 2010, incumbents only won 85% of their races. Obviously, an 85% incumbency victory rate is still ridiculously high, but it is a dip, even if slightly.
Incumbents will always have an advantage – they have name recognition on the ballot and they routinely raise more campaign funds than their opponents. Still, even if a mounting number of Americans were to want to intentionally spurn their incumbents in November, they’d have a hard time doing so. Between gerrymandering and the two party system’s stronghold on American democracy, a lot of voters will feel compelled to stick with the incumbent due to the lesser-of-two-evils “choice” they are forced to make.
However, at least a growing number of Americans are waking up to the fact that they’re dissatisfied with politicians on the whole – even the legislators they had a hand in voting into office themselves – and can start calling out politics for the sham that it is. If most Americans are no longer happy with their representatives, clearly there is a flaw in the system that needs to be addressed.