More on that Anti-incumbent Rage

Larry Sabato, writing for the BBC (US election 2010: The fable of the endangered incumbent) notes what we have been here at OTB (such as from James here and from me here and here):

The headlines scream the names of defeated incumbents. Both parties are losing senior members of Congress across the country. Every primary election night brings a higher toll.

Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) falls, then Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) – and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) only just survives despite the avid support of the only Arkansas native ever elected president, Bill Clinton.

Longtime incumbent Representative Alan Mollohan (D-West Virginia) is now a lame duck, and so is Representative Parker Griffith (R-Alabama).

However, he goes on to provide some perspective:

Over the past 40 years, the average number of representatives and senators defeated in primaries has been between six and seven per election year.

To date, we have had four.

Moreover:

Quietly, while the media have understandably focused on the fall of a handful of powerful legislators and executives, fully 200 members of Congress have been re-nominated by their parties so far.

Emphasis mine.

So, the tally at this point is:  Incumbents re-nominated 200 v. incumbents ousted by the wave of rage: 4.

And yes, more chances are on the horizon, and there are still the general elections for the final test.

Still, in evaluating the losses to date, one has to take into consideration the following if what one wants to a true understanding of how these races fit into a broader narrative of rage/anti-incumbency/whatever:

The politicians defeated so far in 2010 were juicy targets for one reason or another.

Mr Specter and Mr Griffith are party-switchers. When a politician changes his party label, he is hated by his old party and distrusted by his new one.

Mr Mollohan and Mr Gibbons have been investigated for corruption.

Mr Bennett was a victim of internal party fissures – regarded as too moderate by the party ideologues who voted. Ms Lincoln faced the same problem.

Sabato concludes the piece making the same argument I have been making for months (such as here in March and here in January):  the Republicans will make serious gains in the House in November, although it remains unclear if they can capture the chamber.  Beyond that, they will make gains in the Senate as well, but are highly unlikely to reclaim the upper house.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    “the Republicans will make serious gains in the House in November, although it remains unclear if they can capture the chamber. Beyond that, they will make gains in the Senate as well, but are highly unlikely to reclaim the upper house.”

    Agreed.

    The question then becomes, what are the implications? The Republicans won’t have the votes to dictate an agenda. They may not even have the votes for a more muscular opposition. They certainly won’t have enough votes to overturn a veto.

    Once they get the seats, what will they do with them?

  2. James Joyner says:

    For a variety of reasons, my ideal outcome would be for the GOP to fall *just short* in both the House and the Senate.

    For one thing, I fear that winning big will give them the wrong idea about a mandate.

    For another, I think they’d be far better positioned for 2012 with the Democrats still in charge of the whole shebang.

  3. Wayne says:

    There are the special elections to take into account. Even Massachusetts who didn’t have an actual incumbent but it certainly was a change.

    I agree we won’t know for sure until November. Also agree that “anti-incumbent” is a media in fashion phrase which isn’t unique in this election. I disagree with those that if the majority of incumbents win then there nothing to see. If there is a significant more that get kick out than in the past then it is worth taking note.

    Of course just like previous elections, there will be those that will misstate the reason for the election results.

  4. @Wayne:

    There’s always something to see, so to speak. I am just arguing that the way the media has been framing the discussion to date has been simply incorrect.

  5. Herb says:

    “For one thing, I fear that winning big will give them the wrong idea about a mandate.”

    That’s actually my biggest fear with a big Republican win, too. But then again, I’m almost sure they’ll get the wrong idea with even the smallest win.

  6. Tlaloc says:

    “The question then becomes, what are the implications? The Republicans won’t have the votes to dictate an agenda. They may not even have the votes for a more muscular opposition. They certainly won’t have enough votes to overturn a veto.

    Once they get the seats, what will they do with them?”

    More obstructionism. But givin how stupidly the dems have pissed away the chance to actually govern this strikes me as a feature and not a bug. Viva la gridlock!

  7. Wayne says:

    Steven
    You could be right. It wouldn’t be the first time the MSM has done so. However I’m not ready to call it either way for the moment. It does seem to me that there has been an uptick in anti-“establishment” sentiment in both parties. Party back candidates are having a rougher time at it with some not making it at all. Will it blossom or fade away. Once again I’m not confident either way. I haven’t seen hard numbers on it either.