Disapproval of Congress Linked to Higher Voter Turnout
Congressional job approval, currently 13%, is on pace to be the lowest it has been in a midterm election year. Moreover, a near-record-low 19% of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election. This latter measure shows a similarly strong relationship to voter turnout as does job approval.
Voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged narrowly between 38.1% and 41.1% since 1994, considerably lower than the 51.7% to 61.6% range for the last five presidential elections. But there has been a clear pattern of turnout being on the higher end of the midterm year range when Americans were less approving of Congress. The correlation between turnout and congressional approval since 1994 is -.83, indicating a strong relationship.
The disapproval-turnout link is a fairly recent phenomenon. From 1974 — the first year Gallup measured congressional job approval — until 1990, there was only a weak relationship between turnout and approval, with turnout higher when approval was higher, the opposite of the current pattern. But that weak relationship was driven mostly by the 1974 midterm elections, when turnout was among the higher ones for midterms and Congress was relatively popular after the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation that summer.