A Year Out, Widespread Anti-Incumbent Sentiment
Obama's Afghanistan Rating Declines
November 11, 2009
The mood of America is glum. Two-thirds of the public is dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. Fully nine-in-ten say that national economic conditions are only fair or poor, and nearly two-thirds describe their own finances that way -- the most since the summer of 1992. An increasing proportion of Americans say that the war in Afghanistan is not going well, and a plurality continues to oppose the health care reform proposals in Congress.
Despite the public's grim mood, overall opinion of Barack Obama has not soured -- his job approval rating of 51% is largely unchanged since July, although his approval rating on Afghanistan has declined. But opinions about congressional incumbents are another matter.
About half (52%) of registered voters would like to see their own representative re-elected next year, while 34% say that most members of Congress should be re-elected. Both measures are among the most negative in two decades of Pew Research surveys. Other low points were during the 1994 and 2006 election cycles, when the party in power suffered large losses in midterm elections.
Support for congressional incumbents is particularly low among political independents. Only 42% of independent voters want to see their own representative re-elected and just 25% would like to see most members of Congress re-elected. Both measures are near all-time lows in Pew Research surveys.
The latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 28-Nov. 8 among 2,000 Americans reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that voting intentions for next year's midterms are largely unchanged from August. Currently, 47% of registered voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district or lean Democratic, while 42% would vote for the Republican or lean to the GOP candidate. In August, 45% favored the Democrat in their district and 44% favored the Republican.
However, voters who plan to support Republicans next year are more enthusiastic than those who plan to vote for a Democrat. Fully 58% of those who plan to vote for a Republican next year say they are very enthusiastic about voting, compared with 42% of those who plan to vote for a Democrat. More than half (56%) of independent voters who support a Republican in their district are very enthusiastic about voting; by contrast, just 32% of independents who plan to vote for a Democrat express high levels of enthusiasm
October, more people oppose than favor the health care proposals being discussed in Congress; 47% say they generally oppose the proposals being discussed in Congress, while 38% say they favor these proposals. About a third (34%) says they oppose the legislation very strongly while 24% favor it very strongly. The survey was mostly completed before the House approved health care reform legislation late in the evening of Nov. 7.
Public frustration with Congress may have serious electoral implications for incumbents in the 2010 midterm elections. Only about a third (34%) of registered voters say they think most members of Congress should be re-elected next year, which is on par with ratings during the 1994 and 2006 elections. Meanwhile, just 52% of voters say they want to see their own member re-elected, approaching levels in early October 2006 (50%) and 1994 (49%).
In November 1994, 68% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans favored the re-election of their own member of Congress, which is comparable to the current figures (64% of Democrats, 50% of Republicans). But today, just 42% of independents want to see their own representative re-elected, compared with 52% of independents on the eve of the 1994 midterm elections.
Partisan feelings about incumbents were the reverse in 2006, when the GOP held majorities in the House and Senate. In November 2006, 69% of Republicans, 52% of Democrats and 45% of independents wanted to see their own member of Congress re-elected.