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Why Congress Doesn’t Care That You Hate Them Right Now

Senate Democrats during a news conference on the government shutdown at the U.S. Capitol

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senate Democrats during a news conference on the government shutdown at the U.S. Capitol

Congress doesn’t care if you hate them, because shutdowns have never caused a change in the majority party of either house of Congress.

Let’s get right to the data:

Notice that in every single election where shutdowns had previously occurred, never did those elections cause a change in the House majority party. Not once. (Thanks to the Washington Post for their helpful historical background on all past shutdowns.)

In the Senate’s case, twice we saw the majority party change, but these events were not because of shutdowns. In 1980 a broader movement of Republican support saw the GOP take back the White House and Senate, and narrow its House minority. And leading into the 1986 elections, there was only a single day of shutdown: not enough of a factor to be the primary cause of a midterm power shift.

Specifically, notice 1978 and 1996: In the two elections following the highest number of shutdown days, both houses of Congress saw their majority parties stay in tact.

Of course, congressional reelection rates are extremely high, usually more than 90 percent in the House and above 80 percent in the Senate.

And its important to remember: Members of Congress still get paid during government shutdowns.

So Congress doesn’t care if you hate them because:

1. They basically all get reelected anyway.

2. They don’t lose elections specifically because of shutdowns.

3. They’re still getting paid.

If you think about those facts, it makes all the sense in the world for Congress to allow shutdowns, talk a big game in public, and not worry about hurrying up the process. There isn’t much incentive to rush back into a compromise.

Chemi is head of research for Businessweek and Bloomberg TV.

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