Pew: Public's Frustration with Congress Could Cost Republican Incumbents in 2012

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports that "discontent with Congress has reached record levels, and the implications for incumbents in next year’s elections could be stark." Two-thirds of respondents say that "most" congressional members should be voted out of office in 2012, the highest percentage on record. And Americans are not very forgiving of their own; 33 percent say they do not want to see their own representatives reelected. According to Pew, this "matches the all-time high recorded in 2010, when fully 58 members of Congress lost reelection bids – the most in any election since 1948."

Survey results suggest that the American public is particularly frustrated with the Republican Party, and that Republican incumbents stand to lose the most from the public's discontent. Pew comments: "A record-high 50% say that the current Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses, and by nearly two-to-one (40% to 23%) more blame Republican leaders than Democratic leaders for this." Americans are critical of Republican leaders' political approach: "By wide margins, the GOP is seen as the party that is more extreme in its positions, less willing to work with the other side to get things done, and less honest and ethical in the way it governs. And for the first time in over two years, the Democratic Party has gained the edge as the party better able to manage the federal government."

Americans are not putting all the blame on Republicans, of course; they appear to be dissatisfied with Congress as a whole. Democrats survive with more approval than Republicans, but Americans still do not view them very favorably: "Just 31% approve of how Democratic congressional leaders have performed." Still, comparisons between the two parties do indicate that congressional Democrats are at the very least less-disliked than Republicans. For example, while a minority of Americans approve of Democratic congressmen, an even smaller percentage (21%) say they approve of the job Republican leaders have done. In addition, the Democratic Party has retained more support from its base: "While Democrats approve of the job their party’s leaders are doing by a 60% to 31% margin, only 49% of Republicans approve of the GOP leaders in Congress are doing, while 44% disapprove."

The negative Republican attitude differs from the recent historical trend; in recent election cycles, voters from the political party with a House majority say that a majority of congressional members should be reelected. Now, however, "seven-in-ten Republicans say most members of Congress should be replaced, as do 73% of independents and 60% of Democrats."
Americans largely single out current congressional members, and not the political system in which they serve, as the problem.  Pew writes: "In assessing Congress, 55% of the public says they think the system can work fine, it’s the members that are the problem. Just 32% say they think most members have good intentions but the political system is broken. The balance of opinion is virtually identical across party lines."
Independents do not express positive views toward either political party, but they are especially critical of Republicans. "By a 54% to 30% margin they say the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, is more extreme in its positions, and they are twice as likely to label the Republicans than the Democrats as the less honest and ethical party (42% vs. 21%)."

If congressional members--particularly Republicans--hope to hold onto their jobs come 2012, it seems they will have a lot of work to do.
SSDAN Office

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