Note well: It’s a poll of adults, not a poll of voters, so it’s no predictor of how next year’s vote will shake out. But I want you to see it anyway because it corroborates other recent polls showing a historic collapse of Congress’s standing among the public. Never in modern times, through the financial crisis, the Iraq war, or Clinton’s scandals and impeachment, have American adults been quite this disgusted with their reps. It’s come to this:
Only 41 percent of people questioned say the lawmaker in their district in the U.S. House of Representatives deserves to be re-elected – the first time ever in CNN polling that that figure has dropped below 50 percent. Forty-nine percent say their representative doesn’t deserve to be re-elected in 2012. And with ten percent unsure, it’s the first time that a majority has indicated that they would boot their representative out of office if they had the chance today.
“That 41 percent, in the polling world, is an amazing figure. Throughout the past two decades, in good times and bad, Americans have always liked their own member of Congress despite abysmal ratings for Congress in general,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Now anti-incumbent sentiment is so strong that most Americans are no longer willing to give their own representative the benefit of the doubt. If that holds up, it could be an early warning of an electorate that is angrier than any time in living memory.”
As for all members of Congress, the poll indicates only a quarter of the public says most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected.
Among registered voters, the split is slightly better but still underwater at 45/48. Gallup polled this same question today and found the split among registered voters at 54/34, which is slightly better than the numbers last fall before the midterms. But there’s a new low lurking in their data too. When you ask whether most members of Congress should be reelected, the graph falls off a cliff:
That’s fully seven points lower than the previous record low, and that’s why Charlie Cook thinks next year “we could very well see a situation where voters just start throwing incumbents out of windows.” Is it true that the public’s blaming all incumbents regardless of party, though? Sort of: In CNN’s poll, both parties are waaaay underwater when registered voters are asked whether most members of that party deserve reelection. For Democratic representatives, though, the split is 39/57, which is actually a few points better than where they were before the midterm bloodbath last year (36/60). For Republican representatives, the split is … 31/65, which is worse than both the Democrats’ numbers last year and the GOP’s own numbers before the 2006 and 2008 wipeouts. At 33/59, the GOP’s favorable rating is also lower than it’s been in five years. And of course the tea party’s affected too:
Pew has a new poll out today on the tea party as well. Note the line on independents. Granted, it’s still a roughly even split, but it wasn’t so even just six months ago:
Ace says he’s discounting the CNN poll because, after all, the whole point of the tea party is to offer tough medicine. When you go around telling people plain truths about the welfare state being unsustainable, don’t be surprised if they don’t hug you for it. The only problem with that theory: The recent polls on the debt-ceiling deal show that somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the public either likes the amount of spending cuts in the deal or thinks they should have gone further. The public also likes the balanced-budget amendment that House tea partiers were pounding the table for, so there’s no obvious substantive reason why they’d punish the tea party in polls now. So why the backlash, then? Presumably it’s because of the tactics. Maybe they didn’t like the brinksmanship with the economy in the middle of a hellishly slow “recovery.” The Democrats’ strategy, led by President Present, is to sit back and let the tea party bleed some of its popularity on an aggressive “tough choices” agenda and the occasional serendipitous (for Democrats) political overreach. That way, when the real battle finally begins over entitlements, independents will be more suspicious of the tea-party brand than they were before. It’s a gutless, cynical, irresponsible strategy given the magnitude of our spending problem, but it’s not stupid. It may have worked to some extent here.