American public to Congress: Get out. All of you

Posted by Chris Cillizza at 09:46 AM ET, 12/15/2011

Everywhere you look in the numbers, which were released this morning, you see political land mines for incumbents.

Sixty seven percent say they want to see most Members of Congress voted out in 2012, the highest that number has ever been in Pew polling. And, while people are more favorably inclined to see their own Member re-elected, (50 percent yes/33 percent no) those numbers still match historic lows.

The U.S. Capitol building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, July 29, 2011. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Among political independents, the numbers are even more grim. Just 15 percent of independents want to see most members re-elected in 2012; only 37 percent want to see their own incumbent win a new term next year while 43 percent would like to see their own Member lose.

The Pew data also suggests that incumbents can’t hope to be saved by simply blaming the institutional problems of Congress.

Fifty five percent agreed with the idea that “the political system can work fine, it’s the members that are the problem” while just 32 percent agreed with the sentiment that “most Members have good intentions, it’s the political system that’s broken”.

Those numbers are remarkably stable across partisan lines; 58 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents think it’s the Members not the institution that’s the problem.

The two obvious questions that follow from the Pew poll: How much turnover are we talking about and which side will it hurt more?

Pew, helpfully, provides something of an answer to the first question by comparing the percentage of people who said they wanted to see their own Member of Congress re-elected with the number of incumbents who went on to lose in past elections.

In February 2010, just 49 percent said that their own Member should be re-elected in Pew data. Fifty eight incumbents lost that November, the most in any election since 1948 when 68 members lost general elections. (Another 32 retired and 18 lost primary battles.)

In February 2006 and February 2008, roughly six in ten respondents said their own Member deserved re-election; in the former election 24 incumbents lost, in the latter 23 fell to defeat.

The second question — who gets blamed more — is tougher to answer simply because we are still almost a year from an election. But, the numbers are not at all encouraging for Republicans.

Half of the public says this Congress has accomplished less than past Congresses and of that group 40 percent put the blame for that lack of accomplishments on Republican leaders while 23 percent say it’s Democratic leaders fault and 32 percent blame both sides.

A majority say that the Republican party is “more extreme” in its positions while just one in four say the GOP is more willing to “work with the other side”.

“By wide margins, the GOP is seen as the party that is more extreme in its positions, less willing to work with the other side to get things done and less honest and ethical in the way it governs,” reads the Pew memo analyzing the poll results.

Even Republicans aren’t sold on their own party. A remarkable seven in ten GOPers say they would like the majority of Members of Congress to lose re-election in 2012.

If the election next November is a referendum on Congress and its performance — such as it is — the Republican majority could be in trouble.

Of course, the presidential race may well blot out the political sun and the GOP would be in a far better place if the 2012 vote is cast as a referendum on President Obama’s handling of the economy.

Regardless of who gets the blame, it’s clear — for the 1,000th time — that the electorate is as fed up (if not more fed up) than they have been in recent memory. And that means being a politician in 2012 is a decidedly shaky career choice.