Non-Voters are Anti-Incumbent and Angry, Stupid Poll Finds

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows deep-seated anger toward incumbents–moreso than in 1994.

Most Americans are angry about “something” when it comes to how the country is run, and they are more likely than in previous years to vote for a challenger this November, a new poll suggests.

A majority of Americans surveyed — and a higher percentage than recorded during the same time last year — said things in the United States are going “badly.” Among this year’s respondents, 29 percent said “pretty badly” and 25 percent — up from 15 percent a month ago — answered “very badly.” By comparison, 37 percent described the way things are going as “fairly well,” and 9 percent answered “very well.” Of these people, 76 percent said there was “something” to be angry about in the country today. By comparison, 59 percent felt that way when polled in February. Only 21 percent said they were “generally content” in the latest poll.


A majority — 55 percent — said they are more likely to back a challenger in races on this year’s ballot. Such anti-incumbent sentiment is higher than the 48 percent recorded as “pro-challenger” in a similar survey in 1994, when the GOP took control of both houses of Congress.

Nonetheless, 48 percent said that, if most of the present members of Congress were replaced with new members, there would be no difference. By contrast, 42 percent said such a scenario would change Congress for the better, and 7 percent said it would change Congress for the worse.

Disturbing news for incumbents, right? Probably so. Then again, we have known that for at least a year.

This poll, however, does not shed any useful light on the subject:

The results, based on a half-sample of 1,004 adult Americans polled by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN Wednesday through Saturday have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Adult Americans? Not even registered voters. Let alone likely voters, which is what real pollsters look at this close to election day. You might as well consult a Magic 8-Ball as poll “adults.” The results would be nearly as accurate and a whole lot cheaper.

UPDATE: Rob Autry, a colleague of my wife’s at POS, agrees: “With 63 freakin’ days to go, you would think the media types would realize that it might be time to start focusing on the voters.” In a previous post, he put it quite succinctly: “If you are doing a poll about the ‘06 elections, make sure you do it among those who can actually vote in the ‘06 elections.”

Disclaimer: My wife is a VP at Public Opinion Strategies, a political polling firm.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Public Opinion Polls, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mom’s Mad…Somebody’s In Big Trouble

    If soccer, security, and now mortgage moms are all angry; someone better look out. While the GOP plans to invoke national security and the fear of terrorism, issues that worked well in 2002 and 2004, it is hard to imagine they would be sufficient to overcome what holds the most weight with moms, the economic security of their own families.

  2. So 55% on a poll with a 4.5% margin of error indicates a recap of the 48% from 12 years ago. Do you notice how they don’t bring up the similarity to the 2002 results which showed the democrats gaining in the midterm (as would be the historical norm) but instead saw the GOP making gains.

  3. Dale Cox says:

    It seems to me that by not polling voters or likely voters the media is trying to influence how the actual results of the election(s) turn out.

    I don’t follow polling much, but can anyone tell me if opinion polls actually influence election results? Has there been a study done on this?

    If opinion polls don’t influence elections, wouldn’t it follow that the opinion polls are by and large useless?

  4. James Joyner says:


    Polling results in the news affect voters at the margins, although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any studies on that.

    The main reason media polls do “adults” vice “likely voters” is that it’s a lot cheaper to do the former and it’s mostly done to full column space rather than to gain legitimate insight.

    Polls are valuable for analysis. They’re not done to change the results but to gain insights into what the target demographic is thinking at a given moment. For candidates, that knowledge can help them emphasize certain issues, de-emphasize others, and otherwise influence the strategy behind their campaign.

  5. Dale Cox says:

    James: Thanks for the explanation.

  6. donsurber says:

    You get the BIG TUNA for the Catch of the Day!

  7. ABC – Aug. 7, Fox News Aug. 11, and now CNN’s latest poll, Sept. 6, all have the same results. Take it to heart folks. There is a change coming, and we at Vote Out Incumbents Democracy are helping make it happen.