A Year Out, Widespread Anti-Incumbent Sentiment

Nov 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.

Read the full report A Year Out, Widespread Anti-Incumbent Sentiment on the Pew Research Center's Web site.

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