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Americans' view of Congress: Throw 'em out

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

A mere 5 percent of voters think most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve re-election, according to a CBS News Poll released Wednesday. While this number has been low historically, 5 percent is the lowest ever recorded in CBS News polls; nearly nine in 10 say it's time to give new people a chance.


And voters are only slightly happier with their own congressional representative. Just 29 percent (a record low) think their own House member deserves re-election, and 62 percent think it's time for someone new. In past midterm election years, more voters have supported their own representative's re-election.

Conversely, despite registering consistently low numbers, Congress rarely sees mass turnover. Since 1994, the House has seen a re-election rate of at least 90 percent, except in 2010 when there was an 85 percent re-election rate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Less than six months until this year's midterm elections, and voters now are not especially enthusiastic about voting; more than four in 10 are less enthusiastic about voting this year compared to previous congressional elections. There is also a partisan enthusiasm gap: 44 percent of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year, compared to 36 percent of Democrats. Independents' level of enthusiasm is similar to that of Democrats.

Looking ahead to November, Republicans and Democrats are nearly even in the generic national vote for the House of Representatives, which asks registered voters whether they would cast their vote for the Democrat or Republican in their own district. National polls, however, are not perfect predictors of congressional elections, since the state of the race in each individual district varies. Still, Republicans currently control the House and a draw on the generic ballot could put them in position to keep control.

Just 26 percent of voters are paying a lot of attention to the 2014 campaign so far. Those who are paying the most attention and are the most enthusiastic are planning to cast their vote for a Republican candidate this fall.


Along with diminished enthusiasm, there is also a sense of disillusionment among the American public. Forty-five percent of Americans -- a record high in CBS News polls -- now say they agree with the statement "It makes no real difference which party controls Congress, things go on just as they did before." Still, a slim majority thinks it matters which party controls Congress.

Ratings of Congress remain overwhelmingly negative. Eighty percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, while just 12 percent approve. At this point in the 2010 election cycle, Congress' approval rating was 15 percent, not much different than it is today.

The country's two major political parties are not viewed positively either, although the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the Republican Party. Views of the GOP are similar to what they were at this point during the 2010 election campaign (33 percent favorable in 2010 and now), while opinions of the Democratic party are slightly improved (37 percent favorable in 2010, 43 percent now).

Tea Party: Losing Support?

The tea party was an important factor in the 2010 elections, but there's evidence in the poll that their support may be waning. Today, just 15 percent of Americans say they are supporters of the tea party movement - the lowest since CBS News began asking about the tea party in February 2010.

The movement may be losing some of its core constituency -- Republicans. Thirty-two percent of self-identified Republicans now consider themselves supporters of the tea party - down 10 points from February and a decline of 23 points from July 2010, the summer before the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives. The percentage of Republicans who identify as tea party supporters is now among the lowest in CBS News polls.


Nationally, 23 percent of Republicans say a candidate's affiliation with the tea party would make them more likely to back that candidate, while 13 percent say it would make them less likely. It wouldn't make much difference to most Republicans.

Perhaps not surprisingly, conservative Republicans are more inclined to say they would back a candidate who was affiliated with the tea party, but even more than half of that group says it wouldn't make a difference.

Most Republicans overall (as well as most conservative Republicans) think the tea party has either the right amount of influence on their party (38 percent) or too little influence (29 percent).

Americans overall have held net negative views of the tea party movement for the past few years, and they continue to do so in this poll. Favorable views have dipped since February, and are now similar to what they were just after the government shutdown last fall. Fourteen percent have a favorable view of the tea party while 31 percent have an unfavorable view.

As has been the case, Republicans have a more favorable view of the tea party movement than either Democrats or independents.

Issues and the Parties

Voters choose the economy (39 percent) as the issue that will be most important in deciding their vote for Congress this November, ahead of health care (22 percent), the federal budget deficit (11 percent) and the environment (9 percent). Fewer voters say taxes (7 percent) immigration (6 percent), and foreign policy (3 percent) will be most important.

While the economy is the dominant issue for voters of all political persuasions, 27 percent of Republicans pick health care as the issue that will matter most, compared to 18 percent of Democrats who choose it. The environment and immigration are more important to Democrats than to Republicans.

The poll also asked which party would be more likely to do a better job on these issues. The Republican Party has an advantage on the economy, the deficit, foreign policy and taxes. The Democratic Party leads on health care, and has a large lead on the environment. The parties are even on immigration.


The Democratic Party has the lead on empathy. More see the Democrats as the party that cares about their needs and problems, and will help ensure all Americans have a fair chance to get ahead (46 to 36 percent). The parties are more closely matched on moral values.

Money and Politics

Americans express some cynicism when it comes to participating in the electoral process. Three in four think wealthy Americans have a better chance than others of influencing the election process. Only 23 percent say all Americans have an equal chance to do so.

Perhaps for this reason, most Americans (71 percent) continue to think individual contributions to political campaigns should be limited. Majorities of all partisan stripes would like to see campaign contributions limited, but Democrats and independents are more likely to hold that view than Republicans.

Along the same lines, most Americans (76 percent) say that spending by outside groups on political advertising should be limited.


This poll was conducted by telephone May 16-19, 2014 among 1,009 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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