Nine in 10 members of the U.S. House and Senate who sought new terms in office this year were successful, improving their record for re-election even as public approval of Congress sank to all-time lows.
The Bloomberg Government Barometer shows that 90 percent of House members and 91 percent of senators who sought re-election in 2012 were successful, exceeding the incumbent re-election rates of 2010, when 85 percent of House members and 84 percent of senators seeking re-election were successful. For senators, this year’s re-election percentage was the highest since 2004.
Voters were more likely to return their own representatives to office even though the public had a dim view of the legislative branch as a whole. Congress had a 21 percent approval rating on Oct. 15-16 after reaching all-time lows of 10 percent in February and August, according to Gallup polls. Just 10 percent of Americans said that members of Congress have high or very high honesty and ethical standards, according to Gallup data for Nov. 26-29.
“It wasn’t a ‘throw the bums out’ election, it was a ‘throw the bums in’ election,” John J. Pitney Jr., a professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, said in an interview.
In the 435-member House, 391 members sought new terms and 351 were re-elected. In the Senate, 21 of 23 senators seeking to extend their tenure were successful. The results contrast with 2010, when more than 50 Democrats lost in a Republican wave that formed at the midpoint of President Barack Obama’s first term.