Their stand against a war in Syria has pushed their approval up to 20%, which could make a difference in the midterm election
Trying to find an American who likes the job Congress is doing is like trying to find a parking space in New York City. A few months ago Congress’ approval rating was at historic lows. Today, it still stinks, but there are signs that, as President Obama flounders, Congress may be making a slight and potentially important comeback.
The HuffPollster aggregate has Congress’s approval rating up to 20%. It’s not just one outlier poll, either. CBS/NY-Times, CNN, Gallup and Reason-Rupe have Congress’ approval at its highest this year.
To be sure, 20% is quite low. It is, however, higher than congressional approval going into the 2012 election. Just 12% approved of Congress per the HuffPollster very sensitive trend among adults aggregate, which is used for consistency and to catch any last minute movement in the polls.
The reason for the increase could be any number of reasons, but the sudden increase is most likely from Syria. Congress has expressed a lot of skepticism over a possible war. This stance is in line with the American people, while President Obama’s initial position on attacking Syria was not. While Obama has changed his stance, a majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the situation.
There’s no way to know if this is a temporary blip or the start of a new trend, though it certainly underestimates how well individual congress members are doing.
When we look at approval of a person’s own representative, polls show 30pt or higher approval than that of the Congress as a whole. Democrats generally like their Democratic congress member, and Republicans the same for their own. Republicans and Democrats may not even like their own caucus, yet still will vote for their own congressman. It’s why re-election rates for congress members are so high.
That’s not to say the 8pt improvement in overall congressional approval isn’t important. It definitely is.
David Jones and Monika McDermott found that, once controlling for a host of factors including the president’s approval and the state of the economy, a 10pt decrease in congressional approval costs majority party incumbents about 4pt in their re-election margin, while helping minority incumbents by about a point. Overall, a 10pt drop in congressional approval would lead on average to a 17 seat loss for the majority party.
Usually, this rise in congressional approval would be mitigated by a rise in the president’s approval. The president’s and Congress’ approval ratings tend to run in concert with each other, as demonstrated by Jim Stimson. That’s why it’s odd to see major gains for either party in Congress when the two branches are controlled by different parties (even if the US senate has a slim Democratic majority).
When one rises and the other falls, it can lead to historical anomalies. Consider 2012: President Obama’s approval was decent, even if not great. Congressional approval was at its all time low of 12%. And while a host of variables such as gerrymandering and urban packing kept Republican seat losses to a minimum, they lost the national House vote by over a point. It was the worst loss for the majority party in the national vote for a presidential year House election since 1948.
For 2014, it may be the opposite. Congress’s approval seems to be rising, while the president’s is dropping. Presidential approval is, in my opinion, more instrumental in determining the results of congressional elections, so a low Obama approval would be worse for the presidential party than a dropping congressional approval. But with congressional and presidential approval in concert against the Democrats, it could provide quite the punch back in the other direction from 2012.
Of course, we don’t know if the current congressional approval rating rise will hold. It could sink back into the deep abyss by 2014. If it does stay up, it doesn’t guarantee anything. Again, 20% approval isn’t great.
Still the rise in Congress’s approval rating, even if it is only to 20%, does in conjunction with the usual movement against the president’s party in midterms make Republican gains more likely.