Bloomberg by the Numbers: 22%

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

About 22 percent of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected.

That compares with 72 percent of respondents who say most federal lawmakers don’t deserve re-election, according to a Gallup poll conducted April 24-30. About 50 percent of registered voters say their own member of Congress deserves re-election; that figure also is low by historical standards.

The 22 percent figure is “on pace to be the lowest Gallup has measured in an election year,” and a “logical consequence of such dim views of Congress and its incumbents is that voters may take out their frustrations at the ballot box,” according to a Gallup analysis by Jeffrey M. Jones.

The generic anti-incumbent feelings probably won’t be manifested in many incumbent defeats in the primaries and the November general election, though.

Most incumbents are politically ensconced for reasons including demographics, favorable redistricting, campaign fundraising and institutional advantages in name recognition, media attention and office staff that are responsive to constituents’ (voters’) day-to-day needs.

Most House members are a good political match for the districts they represent. In the 2012 election, 409 of the 435 districts voted for President Barack Obama and a House Democratic candidate or for Republican challenger Mitt Romney and a House Republican candidate. Just 26 districts,  or 6 percent of the total, split their ballots by backing the White House nominee of one party and the House candidate of the opposite party.

“There’s just not a lot of elasticity in the House of Representatives,” political analyst Charlie Cook said May 13.

There are “fewer competitive seats by their nature than we’ve seen in modern times, and there’s just not a lot of give there,” Cook said.

According to the Gallup analysis, “divided party control of Congress,” with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats leading the Senate, “is a complicating factor for voters looking to take out their frustrations on Congress by voting against incumbents.”

“The same situation presented itself in the 2012 elections, when the incumbent re-election rate was 90% in a year in which voters were only a bit more positive than now toward incumbents,” Gallup’s Jones wrote.

Historical trends point to few incumbents losing renomination in this year’s primaries. Just seven states, with a total of 98 House districts, have held primaries for the 2014 election. While some incumbents have underperformed at the polls — Republican Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska took an unspectacular 53 percent against an underfunded opponent in a May 13 primary — none have yet been denied renomination. There’s no real penalty for an incumbent not “covering the spread” amid a mediocre election victory; a win is a win.

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