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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fundraising and Anti-Incumbency

The Campaign Finance Institute has released its analysis of the third-quarter campaign finance reports filed by U.S. House and Senate candidates in October. It is still early, and things could change, but CFI data do not yet suggest an anti-incumbent tide.
The most telling results are not in the money figures. The money figures show that the best-funded challenger in each House district had raised about 25 percent as much as the incumbents they were hoping to defeat. This is not very different from the past three elections, when there was both a big turnover and a strong partisan tide (Table 2).

However, these money percentages are based only on those candidates who had started their campaigns early enough to file third quarter reports. More telling at this stage is the sheer number of incumbents who are facing a challenge. In each of the previous three elections, a high number of challengers combined with a partisan imbalance provided early signs that something big was about to happen.
  • By this time two years ago, 91 percent of the Democratic incumbents were facing a Republican challenger – more than double the percentage of their Republican incumbent counterparts. Consistent with what we might expect from such an imbalance, the House GOP enjoyed a net gain of 63 seats in the election of 2010.
  • Two years before that, Democrats were challenging 61 percent of the Republican incumbents as of September 30, while the Republicans were challenging only 27 percent of the Democrats. The election of 2008 saw a net gain of 21 for the Democrats.
  • And in 2005 the Democrats were challenging 60 percent of the Republican incumbents while the Republicans were challenging only 23 percent of the Democrats. In 2006, the Democrats took control of the Congress with a 31 seat net gain.
This year 37 percent of the Democratic incumbents and 35 percent of the Republicans are facing challengers who had filed third quarter reports with the Federal Election Commission. These 2011 numbers more closely resemble the ones for 2003 than any year in between. The 2004 election was one in which only seven incumbents were defeated and the Republicans had a net gain of three seats.

The Senate numbers are not as dramatic as those for the House (Table 5). Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there was a strong partisan tilt in 2005, 2007 and 2009 both in the number of challengers and in the amount of money the challengers raised as a percentage of the incumbents. As in the House, the 2011 numbers looks more like 2003’s than any year in between (see Table 5).