Polls vs. Election Results

I have been seeing a lot of polls and surveys recently about Congress.  The American people strongly disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  You can count me as one of them.  Some polls show support in the single digits.  This is incredibly low and I take it as good news, but also nothing to get too excited about.

The most remarkable polls and surveys I have seen recently show a majority of Americans saying that they will not vote for their incumbent politician in the House of Representatives.  This is different than the approval ratings for Congress.  The low approval ratings for Congress can be explained in that people disapprove, but they may like their particular congresscritter or just have a bigger dislike for the opponent in an election.

But with a majority saying they will not vote to re-elect their own congressman, it simply means that some people are not being truthful in the survey, or perhaps that they always change their mind around election time.  Does this mean that campaign ads work?  To some degree, that is the case.

If a majority say they will not vote to re-elect their incumbent, then that means that the entire House of Representatives should be fired in the next election, or at least something close to it.  But we know how it goes.  The incumbent re-election rate will run somewhere around 90% or higher.  If it is at 80%, then perhaps there has been some marginal change in thinking.

So what is the reason for this contradiction?  It is much like the American people saying they want a balanced budget, but then in a separate survey not wanting any major government programs cut.  They are not mutually exclusive things.  They go hand in hand.

I think the main reason for these poll results is that there is still major partisanship with the two major parties.  Most people tend to side with either Republicans or Democrats.  So you could have a Republican who is frustrated with Congress and wants to vote out the incumbents, but when it comes down to it, he will keep his incumbent Republican politician over the Democratic opponent.

Even for people who are frustrated with both parties, there tends to be favoritism towards one or the other.  I even see this with many libertarians and it will usually depend on what issue they are most passionate about.  Those who are most passionate about foreign policy, civil liberties, and social issues will still tend to favor the Democrats.  Those concerned with taxation, spending, and over regulation will tend to side with the Republicans.  Libertarians realize that both sides betray their constituents and do not follow through on what they say, but there still tends to be a greater dislike for one side versus the other.

A secondary reason, although less so, is that people know that others won't follow through.  If a Democrat or Republican thought that everyone else would follow through and vote against the incumbents, then maybe that person would do the same.  But they know, when it comes down to it, most people will vote along party lines.  A Republican or Democrat isn't going to make a point by voting against the incumbent and risking that the other side wins.

So while these polls and surveys seem contradictory and irrational, and perhaps to some extent are, there is also reasoning behind it.  Unfortunately, most people are still stuck in the party mindset.  I think this is slowly changing, but it will take some more time before a large percentage of the population really does dislike both parties almost equally.  Fortunately, the politicians these days are doing everything in their power to help people not like them.