Search This Blog

Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Anti-Incumbency?

Throw the bums out.
That’s the message 60 percent of Americans are sending to Washington in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, saying if they had the chance to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, they would. Just 35 percent say they would not.

According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, the shutdown has been a political disaster. One in three say the shutdown has directly impacted their lives, and 65 percent say the shutdown is doing quite a bit of harm to the economy. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
The 60 percent figure is the highest-ever in that question recorded in the poll, registered in the wake of the government shutdown and threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time in history. If the nation’s debt limit is not increased one week from now,

“We continue to use this number as a way to sort of understand how much revulsion there is,” said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the poll with Republican Bill McInturff. “We now have a new high-water mark.”
Read the full poll here (.pdf)
But will an anti-incumbent wave affect both parties?  That prospect seems unlikely.  In 2006, Stuart Rothenberg persuasively argued that the United States does not have anti-incumbent elections: 
Over the past 26 Congressional elections, going back to 1954, there have been only three elections when at least a half-dozen incumbents of both parties were defeated — 1956, 1990 and 1992, according to “Vital Statistics on Congress, 2001-02,” edited by Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and Michael Malbin.

By contrast, we have had eight elections in which one party knocked off at least 20 of the opponent’s incumbents and lost fewer than a half-dozen of its own.

Virtually all midterm elections are a referendum on the party of the president, so it isn’t surprising that when a political wave hits, it damages one party much more heavily than it does the other.

The worst bipartisan election since the mid-1950s was in 1992, when a total of 24 sitting House Members — 16 Republicans and eight Democrats — were defeated. While there was a strong anti-Washington, D.C., mood developing in this country at that time, that year also was a redistricting election in which some incumbents didn’t possess the normal advantages of incumbency. That fact undoubtedly explains so many incumbent losses.

Otherwise, over the past 50 years, the closest we’ve come to an anti-incumbent election was in 1990, when six Democrats and nine Republicans lost in the general election, and in 1978, when 14 Democrats and five Republicans were defeated that November.
Here are the incumbent-loss figures for the three House elections since then:


2008 Democrat 06
Republican 17
Total 23
2010 Democrat 54
Republican 04
Total 58



2012 Democrat 10
Republican 17
Total 27



The 2012 election, like that of 1992, was a redistricting election.  Most of the losing incumbents had new territory or were facing other incumbents.