Does Anyone Approve of Congress Anymore?

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

There comes a time when polls fail to tell us what to expect from the future — or have a difficult time doing more than giving general guesses. One of those times is when the future is still too far off to accurately gauge public opinion and sentiment — as we see with much analysis for 2016. It’s still interesting, certainly, and it’s hard to help seeing connections between current actions and the biggest political event in our future. But still, for that same reason, it’s tough to take too much talk for 2016 terribly seriously until we know more, and until we’ve seen what fresh hell Washington D.C. unleashes upon voters in terms of media scandals between now and campaign season. One wrong move and a candidate can lose a great deal of ground, but a week later everyone may have already forgotten; it’s tough to predict these things at times.

A new poll from Gallup shows that approval of Congress across partisanship remains quite low. “Everything else being equal, a reasonable expectation would be that, by this point, Republicans’ approval of Congress would have risen significantly,” states Gallup, pointing out that the majority was taken in both houses this past November.

The reality of the matter is that this would make perfect sense if it wasn’t for the way both parties have been equally incapable of enacting the changes they want because of gridlock, and political pettiness has been rampant on both sides. Americans across party membership have polled as largely dissatisfied with government as a whole, meaning it’s not so surprising that little has changed, given that activity has changed very little. This also makes for a difficult read in terms of how it reflects on 2016 — if it even does. On the one hand, it levels the playing field. Just because Republicans did well in the midterms doesn’t mean much for the coming presidential election. After all, Democrats tend to do poorly during midterms and well during presidential campaigns. But the general involvement and dissatisfaction from independents is significant, and it suggests opportunity, or at least a notable void in the political sphere. Half the battle with elections is getting voters to show up to the polls; it’s not just about appealing to your party’s most promising demographics, you also have to mobilize them. Another key aspect of a successful campaign is finding new voters, or groups that are vulnerable to be won over — and clearly independents are an option, being less impressed and more neutral than other demographics out there.

They present a unique category in that they fall into both strategy challenges though. Many really are up for grabs in terms of voters — despite the claim that most aren’t really independent. According to a Pew Research examination of 2012 elections, 23% of registered voters are swing voters, and that number is usually smaller with an incumbent up for reelection, meaning even more are likely to vote either way come 2016. They are also rather numerous, and becoming more and more copious as the years progress, according to Gallup, as shown in the graph below:

5_2jqzaulusmlps9-fmskaOn the other hand, they’re harder to appeal to in ways, because they fall into such diverse categories. They’re also particularly demanding in terms of getting them to the polls. Their absence at the presidential elections is logical however, in that many independents are not able to vote in the primaries, and thus, only have the opportunity to choose between two major candidates.

Independents also don’t always see the full focus of political attention; something that may change in the coming election, if you judged based off of efforts from candidates like Rand Paul, who is currently taking aim at independent voters in the liberal stronghold of California’s Silicon Valley.

Basically, the failure of respondents to see Congress (and specifically Republicans) in a better light following elections isn’t indicative that 2016 will go the way of the Democrat; far from it. But it does reemphasize the roll independents can take, and the way that politicians may need to expand their focus — especially given that some of their own constituents may be leaving the partisan playing field and heading to neutral ground — as we see has happened a great deal since the onset of the recession.

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