Americans voted to turn over control of Congress to Republicans last fall, but a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds they remain as unhappy as they have ever been with Capitol Hill.That unhappiness typically is taken out on the party in power. Among incumbents, 52 Democrats and just two Republicans lost their House seats in November.
“Republicans are going to have to defend some seats because they picked up a lot of seats, so they should look at this with a bit of trepidation,” says Bertram Johnson, a political scientist at Middlebury College in Vermont. “although it’s too far before the election yet to panic.”
The poll, taken May 12-15 of 897 registered voters, has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
Republican voters are significantly more dissatisfied than Democratic ones with the current Congress: 36% of Democrats say most members of Congress deserve re-election, compared with 26% of Republicans.
Independents are in the sourest mood of all. By 3-1, 69%-23%, they say most members of Congress shouldn’t have another term.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says much of the responsibility for the public’s mood belongs to Democrats, who continue to control the Senate and White House.
“We’re working to help the American people, who face skyrocketing fuel prices and persistent unemployment,” he says, “but we control only one-half of one-third of the federal government.”
Those surveyed take a more positive view of their own representative. By 57%-34%, they say he or she deserves another term. That outlook is a bit brighter than it was just before Election Day last year, when by 51%-31% voters said their representative deserved re-election.
Pitney cautions that incumbents can’t take much comfort in that.
“Voter dissatisfaction tends to accompany changeover in Congress,” he says, noting that congressional districts are being redrawn in the wake of the 2010 Census. “You add that with redistricting and the new constituencies that many members will be facing, and I wish I had the concession for anti-anxiety medication on Capitol Hill.”
By more than 2-1, voters say most members of Congress don’t deserve re-election, matching an historic low reached last spring. Just 28% say most members should get another term in office; 63% say most should be replaced.
Feverish discontent with Congress last year fueled the conservative Tea Party movement and cost Democrats their hold on the House. The levels of dyspepsia are higher now than they were just before elections in 1994, 2006 and 2010, all years when control changed hands.
The failure of the new GOP majority to turn around attitudes isn’t a surprise, says John Pitney, a congressional scholar at Claremont McKenna College in California.
“The economy is still in tough shape, and if people read stories in the paper about Congress, words like ‘deadlock’ and ‘deficit’ come up,” he says. “That’s not a recipe for a happy electorate.”