I'm always amused by national news polls showing that few Americans like the job Republicans are doing in Congress, as if this is somehow a precursor to the outcome of the 2012 House and Senate elections.
In fact, at this stage it's largely irrelevant to how the congressional elections will turn out. Most election analysts believe the Republicans will hold on to the House, and the chances are strong that they could take control of the Senate, too. But more on that later.
Congress' approval ratings have long been historically low as an institution, and this two-year election cycle is no different. Polls show voters strongly disapproving of the job either party is doing.
Ask typical Americans what they think of Congress, and you will get a big fat vote of disgust with their performance. But ask what they think of their own representative or senators, and the answer is more divided, with a majority often favoring incumbents.
This week, Gallup released its latest polling numbers, reinforcing this conflicting axiom of American politics. "A record-low 21 percent of registered voters say most members of Congress deserve re-election, the lowest percentage Gallup has found in the 20-year history of asking this question," the venerable polling group said.
But that finding "compares with 54 percent of voters saying their own member deserves re-election."
As the country was heading into the fall election season in 2010, polls showed that the voters didn't like the job either party was doing. The Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress and were spending money like there was no tomorrow, driving the U.S. deeper into debt, passing an unpopular government-run health care plan, and watching the economy sink deeper into the abyss.
On Sept. 8, 2010, a Gallup poll reported that the Democrats' approval ratings had sunk to 33 percent, while the GOP's score card was an equally dismal 32 percent.
"Both parties' ratings are on the low end of what Gallup has measured since the question was first asked in 1999," the pollsters said at the time.
About two months later, however, the Republicans took control of the Democrat-run House by a wide margin and also cut deeply into the Democrats' Senate majority.
Whatever voters had previously thought of the Republicans in a generic sense, when it came right down to the issues that they cared about -- the economy, jobs, and unprecedented deficits and debt -- they voted overwhelmingly for the GOP's message.