Why Everyone in Congress Should Be Freaking Out (or Not)

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Just 22 percent of Americans are inclined to re-elect their representative in Congress, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll. That's the fewest since ABC/Post polls started asking the question back in 1989.

A whopping 68 percent - the most since 1989 - want to look around for someone new, according to the poll, out Tuesday and produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.

So does this mean that 68 percent of Congress should start packing their bags? Not even close.

Year after year, incumbents keep on getting elected, even though at least 50 percent of the public has said they want to look for other options in every ABC poll since 2002.

Turns out that even though most Americans don't like Congress, many Americans don't have a problem with their own member of Congress. The power of incumbency - strong name recognition, a strong network and the ability to raise lots of money very fast - can't be underestimated.

In fact, this table shows that most Americans end up just voting their own member of Congress back in, despite how they feel.

Year Actual Incumbent Election Rate Inclined to re-elect MoC from ABC poll
2014 ? 22
2012 90.1 34
2010 84.9 32
2008 93.2 NA
2006 92.9 35
2004 97.9 NA
2002 95.3 40
2000 96.7 NA
1998 97.4 42
1996 93.8 NA
1994 90.1 37
1992 87.6 35
1990 96.0 41

Even though the number of people willing to look elsewhere and the number of members of Congress who are actually ousted aren't even in the same ballpark, this poll can offer clues about how tough an environment it could be for some incumbents this year.

Taking the data over the last two decades and doing a little math (a simple linear regression comparing the poll numbers with the actual incumbent election rate), results in a projected incumbency rate of about 75 percent for 2014 if the current sentiment holds true until November.

So what's the bottom line? This all-time low of 22 percent inclined to vote for their lawmaker in 2014 could very well translate into the worst year for incumbents in decades.

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