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News Analysis: Incumbents unpopular, but hard to beat in upcoming U.S. midterm Congressional elections

English.news.cn   2014-05-17 07:33:51

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, May 16 (Xinhua) -- While U.S. Congress is utterly unpopular with Americans, many incumbents will be hard to beat in November's midterm Congressional elections, experts said.

It boils down to one thing: name recognition. No matter how unpopular Congress might be, individual lawmakers are known and branded among their constituents.

"Congress as a whole is unpopular yet most incumbents will win re-election. There are so many incumbent advantages that few of them end up losing," Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.

It is hard for voters to defeat incumbents because they are better known and financed than challengers, said West, adding that most Congressional changes happen when seats are open.

Still, the Senate remains highly competitive, and Republicans are poised to pick up a number of seats because there are several close races in the Republican-dominated states, although the question remains whether the Republican Party can pick up the six seats they need to recapture a majority.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll released Wednesday found that anti- incumbent sentiment is strong in the U.S. ahead of November's elections, as a mere 22 percent of voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, and 72 percent say they do not.

While incumbents have an advantage, with roughly nine in 10 of those who seek re-election winning, the re-election rate tends to be lower in years when voters are less apt to think their own member or most members of Congress deserve re-election, Gallup found.

For example, in 1992 and 2010, when roughly 30 percent of registered voters thought most members of Congress deserved re- election and half thought their own lawmakers did, the incumbent re-election rate in the House of Representatives was lower than 90 percent. In turn, in the 1998 and 2002 elections, when U.S. voters were much more positive toward Congress, the re-election rates were 96 percent or higher, Gallup found.

Even though the vast majority of congressional incumbents who are seeking re-election this year will win, the likelihood of an incumbent winning appears be lower than usual.

It is possible that voters' attitudes toward Congress will change between now and November, and thus more will believe congressional representatives deserve re-election.

Historically, though, these measures do not change much during an election year, and when they have -- such as in 1992 and 2006 -- they have generally become more negative rather than more positive, Gallup found.

Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua that voters don't vote for or against Congress, but rather for or against specific candidates.

"Many voters make a distinction between their member, who they think is swell, and Congress as an institution, which they think is sclerotic and corrupt," Galdieri said. "But incumbents who face strong challengers and can't disentangle themselves from voters' perceptions of Congress in general may face trouble in the fall."

Editor: Fu Peng
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