Re-elect My Member — And While You’re at It, Re-elect All Members

Posted October 18, 2004 at 4:07pm

Whatever the voters’ feelings about the presidential candidates, Americans feel pretty good about their Members of Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]

When asked whether their own Member deserved re-election, 69 percent of likely voters said yes and 19 percent said no. Likely voters who felt their Member should be re-elected reached a high of 75 percent in January 2000. The low number favoring re-election — just 48 percent of registered voters — came in late October 1994, just before the tidal wave that washed dozens of Democrats out of Congress.

The re-election numbers look good for Congress as a whole, too. Among likely voters, 53 percent in the new poll said that most Members deserved re-election. The lowest reading on this question (this time for registered voters) was 29 percent in October 1992. Prior to the 1994 Republican surge, 37 percent of respondents in early October and 43 percent in late October said that most Members deserved re-election.

Less rosy, however, are the approval ratings for Congress as an institution. In an Oct. 11-14 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 40 percent of respondents approved of the way Congress was handling its job, compared to 51 percent who disapproved. That’s far higher than when the approval rating sunk to 19 percent in June 1979 and to 18 percent in March 1992. But they’re well off their peak during the good economic times of October 2001, when the approval number soared to 84 percent.

Already Voted? For all the hullabaloo over early voting, just 4 percent of likely voters (and 3 percent of registered voters) told Gallup/CNN/USA Today interviewers Oct. 14-16 that they had already voted. But another 13 percent said they planned to vote prior to Election Day.

Who Will Win? In March, 42 percent of those surveyed by Gallup/CNN/USA Today said they thought Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would win the presidency and 52 percent said President Bush would win. In the Oct. 14-16 poll, 36 percent thought Kerry would win, and 56 percent Bush.

In the Oct. 13-16 ABC News tracking poll, 33 percent said Kerry would win, and 56 percent said Bush would win. In fact, 22 percent of Kerry supporters said Bush would win compared to just 4 percent of Bush supporters who thought Kerry would.

Iraq. In the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 52 percent disapproved of the way Bush is handling Iraq and 46 percent approved. Still, Bush leads Kerry by 51 percent to 45 percent as the candidate who would better handle the situation there. In a new Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek poll, the results on the Bush vs. Kerry question are identical.

The Draft. In the Oct. 11-14 Gallup/ CNN/USA Today poll, just 14 percent said the United States should return to a military draft, compared to 85 percent who said the country should not. When asked if the country would return to a draft if Kerry is elected, 19 percent said the country would. When asked what would happen if Bush won re-election, 34 percent said the draft would be reinstated.

In a military sample taken by Annenberg in late September and early October, 22 percent of respondents said the United States should reinstate the draft, while 73 percent disagreed. These results were virtually identical to Annenberg’s adult sample (22 percent yes, 71 percent no).

Retirement Security. In a Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek poll conducted in mid-October, 26 percent of respondents said their families would be better off in terms of retirement security if Bush wins, and 31 percent said they’d be better off if Kerry wins. Thirty-eight percent said there would be no difference. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, those numbers were 16 percent Bush, 34 percent Kerry, 44 percent no difference. Among those 65 and older, 23 percent said Bush, 39 percent Kerry, and 32 percent no difference.

Hot Buttons. When asked about which candidate was closer to their view on gun control in an Oct. 14-15 Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas poll for Time, the respondents split, 41 percent for Kerry and 40 percent for Bush. And when asked whether they could vote for a candidate who disagreed with them about the issue, 56 percent said they could and 32 percent said they couldn’t.

On stem-cell research, 49 percent said their position was closer to Kerry’s and 34 percent said their position was closer to Bush’s. On this issue, 57 percent said they could vote for someone who didn’t share their position, while 32 percent said they could not.

On abortion, 45 percent felt closer to Kerry and 40 percent felt closer to Bush. On abortion, 49 percent said they could vote for a candidate who didn’t share their position, with 41 percent saying they could not.

As for gay rights, 44 percent felt closer to Kerry and 41 percent felt closer to Bush. On this issue, 54 percent said they could vote for a candidate who disagreed with them, but 36 percent said they could not.

A Polling Primer. Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy at Rutgers, has written a wonderful primer on the sources of variation in published polls. The report can be found at www.aapor.org. Zukin can be reached at zukin@rci.rutgers.edu.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.