Fenno’s Paradox, or Why You Should Ignore That Poll That Says We Hate Our Member of Congress

This WashingtonPost/ABC poll finds that, “for the first time ever”, a majority of those surveyed disapprove not just of Congress, but of their own member of Congress.  What does this portend for the fall midterm election?  As I write in my latest U.S. News post here, it probably means a lot less than some pundits would have us believe.  A rough back-of-the-envelope statistical guesstimate based on past results to this question suggests roughly 87% of incumbents will still win reelection this fall.  If you want to know why, Richard Fenno explained it all back in 1972.




  1. 13% change? I will take the under on this one. A Tee shirt?

    87%? I think that is really low. I think roughly 10 plus or minus House members will lose their and maybe 4 to 10 Senate incumbents will lose. Liberally, that is say 20 to 25 incumbents. Out of 535 Members of Congress (I don’t count the non-voting ones) that is closer to 5%.

  2. Shelly,

    I think it’s low too – the number is a crude extrapolation from one polling question dating back to 1989, and thus ignores all the other factors that we know influence midterm outcomes. Keep in mind, however, that the number is based only on those incumbents who seek reelection – not all 435 members of the House.

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