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Anti-Incumbency Not the Issue

Republican pollster Glenn Bolger — and, full disclosure, my wife’s boss (or, at least, one of them) — argues that those who chalk up yesterday’s defeats of Arlen Specter and others to “anti-incumbency” are missing the real story:

And an anti-incumbent mood definitely exists. Voters overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress, and say all incumbents should be turned out.

However, with the exception of Mollohan, the nomination defeats (or major troubles at this point for Lincoln), are politicians who were punished for their votes and efforts that strayed from the party line. My polling for Republican incumbents who face challengers show that most are in strong shape to win renomination because they are generally perceived as fighting the Obama-Pelosi efforts to increase the size and scope of government, and to spend money in a way that makes previous administrations seem Scrooge-like.


Not every incumbent is endangered for renomination. However, those who face anger from the grassroots, coupled with a challenger candidate with the resources to get their message out, have challenges.

That strikes me as exactly right.  After all, most incumbents who run this year will get re-elected.  The difference between an “anti-incumbent wave” and a normal cycle is a re-election rate of 85% rather than 95%.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    Is Arlen Specter fully an incumbent? He ditched his vessel and tried to float on a different ship with a different crew. The new crew rejected him.

    One wonders if he had run as an independent, whether he could have won in November.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, he’s been in the Senate since Christ was a corporal. But, yes, he’s in an odd spot.

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  3. PD Shaw says:

    Under Scots law, he’s neither guilty, nor innocent of the charge of incumbency, he’s just an odd duck.

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  4. A lot of folks are drawing some very broad conclusions off a very small number of data points.

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  5. James: This is the first essay — other than a blog post I wrote this morning — to dissent from the anti-incumbent rhetoric. I will link your article.

    here’s mine: Very Little Evidence of Voter Anger Towards Incumbents

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