People Don’t Like Congress, and That’s Bad for Republicans

The Gallup data above won’t take anyone by surprise.  People don’t like Congress.  I’ve always assumed, however, that this sentiment wasn’t consequential.  After all, most people do like (and vote for) their member of Congress, even if they hate the institution.

But I may be wrong.  And, if I am wrong, House Republicans should be concerned.

That’s the implication of a recently published book—Americans, Congress, and Democratic Responsiveness—by David Jones and Monika McDermott.  You can also find a distillation of part of their argument in this ungated article (pdf) by Jones.

Here’s the rub: when people dislike Congress, they punish members of the House majority and reward members of the minority.  Opinions about Congress are important even when controlling for other things that affect congressional elections, such as approval of the president or economic conditions in the country.  In the article, Jones finds that a ten-point decrease in approval would cost majority-party incumbents about 4 points at the polls.  It would also help minority-party incumbents by a smaller amount (just over 1 point).  Even more consequential for elections, these effects are larger in swing districts.  And they are not going away anytime soon.  Jones finds that the effect of congressional approval grew as the parties polarized, and polarized parties are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

What does this imply about the seats that will be won and lost in 2012?  Jones and McDermott estimate that, in the 1974-2006 elections, a 10-point decrease in approval led to a loss of 17-seats, on average.

Political scientist Alan Abramowitz recently noted that Democrats could possibly regain the majority in the House in 2012.  This low ebb in congressional approval, if it continues, will likely help.

4 Responses to People Don’t Like Congress, and That’s Bad for Republicans

  1. Adam Olson June 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I wonder if that means that the chamber will switch parties more frequently now as the overall approval rating of Congress is unlikely to rise for a long time.

  2. Eric June 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    This makes me want to look at statehouses, too.

  3. Jon June 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    For me, this makes me want to explore the views of voters on this more. If the ‘all politics is local’ mantra is dead, then perhaps this means that voters are not caring as much about local conditions and what their ‘local’ representative has done (of course not always, but on the whole) as the party. This in turn could make institutional disapproval matter a whole lot more in the future.

  4. John Thacker August 9, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Did you notice, however, that in the Gallup data you linked, Democrats give the Congress a significantly higher approval rating than Republicans and Independents do?

    Perhaps it’s the tiebreaker effect of Democrats still holding the Senate and the Presidency, so they are identified more as the majority. Perhaps it’s that Republicans are frustrated that they feel that they haven’t gotten much for having taken the House? That could mean that Republican voters will split or sit home in 2012, but not necessarily.