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Throw the Other Bums Out

Americans really disapprove of Congress--except for their own representatives.

Americans really disapprove of Congress. By several different metrics, they disapprove more than ever. But new data from Gallup show that more people still want to keep their own member of Congress in office, demonstrating just how difficult it might be to have a true cross-party, anti-incumbent wave election.

Approval of Congress is down to 13 percent in January, near its lowest point ever. And although a record-low 17 percent of voters say "most members of Congress deserve reeelection," 46 percent still believe their own member of Congress deserves another term in Washington.

That is the lowest level Gallup has found in 22 years of asking that question. But "record low" does not mean "disastrous." If this is what a bad environment looks like, lawmakers have it awfully good.

It is still 8 points clear of the 38 percent of voters who say their member doesn't deserve another two years.

Meanwhile, the "reelect your member" number syncs with the ups and downs of people's willingness to reelect most numbers—but at 17 percent, that figure can't go much lower. (Neither can congressional approval, another measure that moves up and down at a similar pace.) Unless that relationship frays, 46 percent of people wanting to reelect their member may be as low as America goes. Plus, measuring generic support like this typically understates how well incumbents do when matched against challengers who inevitably have some flaws.

As Gallup notes, "Results like these have presaged significant turnover in Congress, such as in 1994, 2006, and 2010," and we could well be in for another year like those. But those years were more anti-majority than anti-incumbent: In all three of those midterm elections, voters rebelled against the party controlling Congress and flipped scores of House seats in the other direction. This year, Congress is divided, and House districts are sorted to the point where there isn't too much room for the parties to take new districts. And even in those tumultuous years, or at the height of the widespread House banking scandal in 1992, reelection rates never dipped below 85 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And on top of that, despite a very rough year for congressional ratings, more people than not still want their member back in 2015.

It's almost impossible for polls to show more unhappiness with Congress, but nearly half of Americans want to rehire their representative later this year. It's one key reason why an anti-incumbent election hitting both parties is so unlikely.

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