Posted 10 months ago on Jan. 16, 2014, 10:58 a.m. EST by LeoYo
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Why does an unpopular Congress win re-election? Look in the mirror
Voters to other voters: Blame your congressman, not mine
By Tim Skillern20 hours agoYahoo News
Just 13 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup poll released on Tuesday, pat Congress on the back and say, “Good job!”
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It’ll thus be disgruntling for many voters to see most of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives celebrate their re-election come November. Indeed, historical House re-election rates hover around 90 percent, not dropping below 85 percent since at least 1964.
How can a body so majorly disdained, at least recently, almost assuredly punch its ticket for another two-year term? The answers, political scientists say, are complex. But if you need a simpler reason now, look locally at voters’ perspectives.
In Maryland’s 8th District, constituent Charles Ray says his representative, Chris Van Hollen, is “among the few, in an institution that seemed to be cowed by a few loud-mouth bullies, who seemed willing to swim against the tide.”
Meanwhile in Illinois’ 5th, Isa-Lee Wolf says of Mike Quigley, her House delegate: “My congressman gets my support because he's swimming upstream in a river with a non-cooperative current.”
There’s something to that swimming metaphor. Voters across the country see their House member as a fish out of water — a heroic figure in a Sisyphean struggle against an evil entity.
It’s almost Greek in its tragedy.
“There is something of a paradox in that Congress, as an institution, is deeply unpopular,” Peter Hanson, a University of Denver political science professor who studies polarization, tells Yahoo News. “But people tend to like and respect their individual member of Congress.”
To wit, from Facebook:
Mark DeBole My congressman is Brian Higgins. Throw the bums out, just not my bum!
Blame political homogeny in House districts for the latter: Republicans win conservative districts, and Democrats win liberal ones. No duh, right? Well, it wasn’t always that way. In the mid-20th century, both parties included a healthy number of conservatives and liberals. Hanson notes: “Conflicts were not necessarily partisan conflicts. They were ideological. The conflict didn’t spread neatly along party lines.” Today we’re polarized — but not within our districts — so it’s harder for Congress to get business done.
Get nothing done? Get poor marks.
Voters elect congressional members, Hanson says, to do a fantastic job representing their districts, not the country. “The end result of that effort will be gridlock and frustration with Congress on a national level,” he said. More simply: We perceive House politicians as doing their jobs locally but not nationally.
“That’s simply the design of our system,” Hanson says. “It’s the nature of a legislature to contain a variety of different interests that engage in loud, noisy conflict that, from the outside perspective, looks like nothing but bickering and that frustrates voters.”
How frustrated are they? To capture the canyon-like gap between individual and institutional approval, Yahoo News this month invited constituents to contrast their House representative with Congress and look toward November’s midterm elections. Why do they like their officials but not those across district boundaries? Will they vote for their representative on Nov. 4? Here are some lightly edited excerpts we received from readers, with some Facebook responses woven in: http://news.yahoo.com/congressional-approval-ratings-house-elections-185248987.html