Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Repeat: There Is "Very Little Evidence of Voter Anger Towards Incumbents"

After a string of primary elections last month, media commentators robotically ran stories reporting the vulnerability of incumbent politicians. Blanche Lincoln's failure to capture 50% of the votes in a strong 3-way contest and Arlen Specter's failure to win his first shot as a Democrat provided the most often cited evidence of incumbent jeopardy. But aside from these two contests, there was very little evidence of incumbent vulnerability.

Now that Lincoln has won the run-off election, there is still very little tangible evidence of voter anger towards incumbents. Even if polls show discontent, this might not translate into election losses for incumbents. Furthermore, these losses might result from other factors, such as ideology.

So far, only a few incumbents have lost their bids to retain an existing office. It is unclear, however, whether these losses resulted from anti-incumbent rage. Specter's loss, as I have analyzed elsewhere, likely resulted because he could not convince faithful Democrats (the folks who vote in congressional primaries) to support him following his lifetime in politics as a Republican.

Furthermore, during last month's Arkansas primary, Lincoln simply failed to capture a majority of the votes in a strong 3-way contest. In addition, labor and other liberal groups provided ample cash for Bill Halter -- Lincoln's strongest challenger. Ultimately, however, Lincoln pulled off the victory.

Two Republicans lost reelection bids in Utah (Sen. Robert Bennett) and in Nevada (Gov. Jim Gibbons). Their defeats, however, probably result from ideology or political scandal.

In Nevada, Gov. Gibbons had to deal with a nasty divorce and allegations of adultery and sexual assault. Also, among Republicans, more conservative factions in the party have threatened or ousted establishment candidates who, after getting elected, represented an entire state and not merely the partisans who vote in primary elections. Rand Paul's effort to retool his image following his controversial statements about civil rights demonstrates that Tea Party politics might not have mainstream appeal.

It is difficult to predict what will happen electorally in November. Thus far, however, the media's anti-incumbent spin is greatly exaggerated.

14 comments:

Matt P. said...

Here are some interesting facts on Lincoln among others: Consider Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, renominated in 2004 by an 83%-17% margin and reelected that November by 56%-44%. One big headline of last night’s news coverage was that she won her Democratic primary runoff over Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. But her margin was only 52%-48%. And in recent polling she trails 3rd district Republican Congressman John Boozman by a 59%-34% margin.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Some-thoughts-on-the-June-8-primaries-95935064.html#ixzz0qMpZ8u81

Infidel753 said...

The MSM seems to be already re-spinning this as "the year of the woman" rather than the year of anti-incumbency. There always has to be some simplistic angle on a story.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Infidel: I think you're right. I have seen several stories with this narrative.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt: Thanks for posting. Those numbers do not prove anti-incumbent fervor. There are many reasons why someone's support may dwindle over time. With respect to the year's primary, for example, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party mounted a concerted effort against Lincoln on policy and ideological grounds. This explains the closeness of the contest this year.

Matt P. said...

That is true Darren. The question is why? Why did they mount the challenge? Why are Republicans losing as well. You can always find that one specific reason to hang your hat on but the larger truth of the matter is that there is a huge traditional bias in favor of incumbents. This cycle they are not enjoying that bias. That is why Crist is on his own for example.

ZombieHero said...

"Tea Party politics might not have mainstream appeal."

The same mainstream that thinks talking about Palin's breast size is news?

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/columnists/view/20100608sarah_palin_dd-alaska

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I don't think Palin's breast size is news, but I do not consider myself mainstream. Ha.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt: Of course "why" is important. Just saying the person is an incumbent is too simplistic. First, as I have stated, there are much more plausible reasons -- such as ideology -- that matter now. Unless being "anti-incumbent" is a new ideology, then I think the media narrative is insufficient.

Second, despite the supposed rage against incumbents, many of them have successfully won their primary challlenges. Also, many of the "new" victors in the primaries actually hold some other office. So, for example, Sestak defeated "incumbent" Arlien Specter, but he is a member of the House. If people want to get rid of Congress, why replace one member of Congress with another?

Finally, I think the incumbent vulnerablity script sounds good to you because it means that Democrats face more risks in November. Well, Democrats will face more risks because historically, midterm elections have not been kind to the ruling party. The ruling party also suffers in bad economic times -- which no one seems to be reporting. "It's the economy, stupid" explains electoral patterns much more than "it's an incumbent, stupid."

Matt P. said...

No Darren, I believe the Democrats face more risks in November (than usual) because as a party they have somehow managed to adopt all of the allegedly horrid aspects of Bush II, managed to pass crappy health care legislation against the will of the people, unnecessarily caused tension in the relationships with Israel and UK, and have done a piss poor job of reviving the economy.

:-)

Josh Dowlut said...

Perhaps it is the incumbent ideology that is getting the blow back? The details are too numerous to list, but on significant matters of fiscal, monetary, and foreign policy, there are few differences between the major established powers. Furthermore, a detailed, honest assessment of what created our problems shows both powers are significantly culpable.

All I have to say: Alvin Greene.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Josh, I am willing to accept that perceived ideology of some incumbents or job performance might matter. The media have done a poor job explicating these issues. I think even Matt believes this.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt and Josh: More on the Anti-Incumbent MYTH

Matt P. said...

Another thing to remember is retirements. There are a bunch. People like Chris Dodd aren't leaving because they think they are going to win. Evan Bayh, Dorgan, etc.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt: http://dissentingjustice.blogspot.com/2010/06/more-on-anti-incumbent-myth.html

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