MISLEADING POLLS. ...

MISLEADING POLLS. I tried to run through this data yesterday at The Blog I Shalt Not Name, but I did a really crappy, confusing job of it (and remember: donate to my awesomeness!). So let's try again. A fair amount of attention is going to the new NYT/CBS poll, which has pretty encouraging news for Democrats: Congressional approval is down, Bush's ratings are down, the proportion who want to reelect theirrepresentative is down, and so forth. But like in many of these polls, voters don't appear to blame their representatives. When asked "How about the Representative in Congress from your district? Do you approve or disapprove of the way your Representative is handling his or her job?" A full 53 percent approve of their representative, and 29 percent disapprove.

This number has remained generally steady throughout the last year, and it's often brandished as evidence that voter discontent won't translate into congressional changes. Voters would vote against Congress if they could, but they'll only have the chance to vote for or against a representative they approve of. What interested me about this poll, though, was that it had trend lines dating back to the mid-80's. So for comparison, in 1994, 56 percent approved of their Congressman, and only 17 percent disapproved. Democrats lost 54 seats that year. In 1998, when Democrats won an unexpected five seats, 64 percent approved of their representatives, and 19 percent disapproved. In 1990, the last time representative approval was in the low 50's, Democrats, the majority party, gained eight seats (including Bernie Sanders).

In other words, this number is meaningless. Going by history, Democrats will either gain 60 or so seats, or lose eight. Either way. But what'll decide that is the distribution of unhappy voters: if they're clustered in close districts, Republicans have a problem. If the unhappy electorate is more scattered, they'll make less of a difference. However it plays out, it's time to retire this useless, misleading question.

--Ezra Klein

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