U.S. Congress incumbents do not fear low approval

It is 2020 and everyone (especially on Reddit, you’re welcome for the free advertising) is a professional political analyst. Fortunately for the Harold Herald readership, we will stand by our values and continue to report news unreliably and with no political affiliation.

Today we’re going to take a look at historical data allowing us to visualize the rate of reelection of U.S. Congress incumbents along with Congress’s approval ratings from the years 1974-2018.

“Why are we reelecting people at such a high rate when we don’t even approve of the job they’re doing?”

One would think with an average reelection rate of 88.5% since 1974, the members of Congress have been doing a great job in the eyes of the American people, right? Unfortunately, this logic is flawed because the average approval rating for Congress since 1974 is about 30.6%.

Figure 1 – A visualization of Congress reelection rates compared to approval ratings.

Taking a quick glance at Figure 1, its evident that despite only reaching an approval rating over 50% twice in 44 years, the lowest reelection rate for the U.S. House of Representatives was 85%. Reelection for Senators, however, was not quite as guaranteed with the lowest rate being 55% in 1980. The main point of this article is to ask everyone the question, “Why are we reelecting people at such a high rate when we don’t even like what they’re doing?”

“I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”
– Rocky Balboa

Time to take a complete left turn and try to figure out why the approval rating spiked above 50% in 1984 and 2002. In 1984, there was discussion that the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise was going to start filming and be released in 1985. Learning that this movie was going to end the Cold War, Americans were optimistic and voted confidently that their Congressmen would take their country in the right direction.

Fast forward to 2002 where the approval rating was relatively high at 54.2%. What was going on in the world at this time? Interestingly enough, the highest approval ratings for Congress since 1974 were 84%, 73%, and 72% in the months following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The subsequent years would be the last time American politics would be so close to unification. Unfortunately politics has since, not just in the United States, but around the world, become a perpetual tribal war. In the words of a great boxer, maybe one day, “everybody can change!”

Now that we’ve wasted your time with that tangent, a simple search on our favorite privacy-violating search engine will tell you that an incumbent has a political advantage over challengers because they have more name recognition as well as “easier access to campaign finance, as well as government resources (such as the franking privilege) that can be indirectly used to boost the incumbent’s re-election campaign.” This article could have been one paragraph long, but since everyone is quarantined, we thought we’d give you the pleasure of wasting more time.

Sources: Data was graciously provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and Gallup. Also note that no data for Congress’s approval rating was available for 1984 so we just made it up.

Disclaimer: The Harold Herald would like to reiterate that it has no political affiliation and that Stallone never should have killed off Apollo Creed.


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