President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 12, 2013. (Photo by Lawrence Jackson/The White House)
by Paul Steinhauser
CNN Political Editor
(CNN) — It’s conventional wisdom: Americans don’t like Congress.
But when it comes time to vote, they usually don’t throw their lawmaker out of office.
However, new polls indicate that times and perceptions about “throwing the bums out” may be changing.
Those same surveys, as well as a veteran political handicapper, also suggest that one year before the 2014 midterm elections, the shutdown may provide the Democrats an opportunity to win back the House.
The public is clearly angry over the two week-long partial federal government shutdown and how the talks to avert or end the shutdown and extend the nation’s debt limit have been handled. And while polls suggest that more of the blame has been pointed at the Republicans in Congress rather than their Democratic counterparts or President Barack Obama, all sides are feeling the pain.
As history proves, House incumbents overwhelmingly get re-elected, even in wave years. Ninety-four percent of incumbents won in 2006, when Democrats re-took both houses of Congress. And 85% of incumbents won a return trip to Capitol Hill in 2010, when the GOP, thanks to a 63 seat pickup, took back control of the House. (Turnover in open seats where no incumbent was running accounted for the rest.)
But two new polls suggest that high retention rate could fall a bit in 2014.
While nearly three-quarters of registered voters questioned in a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday said they would like to see most members of Congress defeated in the next election, there was an even more eye popping number: Thirty-eight percent said they didn’t want their own representative re-elected. That’s the highest level recorded in the more than two decades that Pew has been asking that question.
“At this stage in the 2010 and 2006 midterms, fewer wanted to see their own member of Congress defeated (29% in November 2009, 25% in September 2005),” according to a release from Pew Research.
The Pew poll isn’t alone in finding a rise in voter dissatisfaction with their own representatives.
Sixty percent of people questioned in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last Thursday said if given the chance to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, they would. That’s the highest level ever recorded on that question in NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling.
“These polls show a strong anti-incumbent mood, but you have to remember that most incumbents represent relatively safe districts due to gerrymandering and will probably have a major cash advantage and few of them are likely to draw strong challengers,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, as well as handful of other national surveys conducted since the start of the shutdown on October 1, indicate the GOP brand taking a hit, with the party’s favorable ratings and the approval ratings for congressional Republicans at or near historic lows.
Those numbers seem to be affecting the generic ballot, which asks if you would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your congressional district without mentioning the names of any candidates.
The Democrats have an eight point advantage, 47%-39%, over the GOP in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, a five point jump in a month. The Democrats were up nine points (43%-34%) in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted in the days just before the shutdown started, a five point increase since their previous poll in July. And the Democrats have a six-point advantage over the GOP in the Pew poll.
“An anti-incumbent mood tends to hurt the party that has more incumbents,” added Holland “That would suggest that 2014 might be a bad year for Republicans, although with a Democrat in the White House, the anti-incumbent mood could be muddled.”
The new polling also has a top non-partisan political handicapper changing his mind.
“Last week I observed that I hadn’t yet seen ‘compelling evidence’ that a Democratic political wave could be developing. I can no longer say that after seeing the recently released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll,” Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, said Wednesday.
But the next election is still more than a year away. At this time in 2010 midterm election cycle, the Democrats had the advantage in the generic ballot.
“Surveys conducted in the middle of a major event may have a very short shelf life,” cautioned Rothenberg. “After the current confrontation ends, voters could easily return to their default partisan positions – or the shutdown and debt ceiling showdown could have created a new partisan baseline from which the GOP can never recover.”
And while the generic ballot is a useful gauge, it’s important to remember that the battle for the House is a district-by-district fight, rather than a national race, and just 17 of the 232 House Republicans are in districts won by Obama in last year’s election.
–CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this story.