Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anti-incumbent fervor update

Only in America can a millionaire businessman invest $3 million of his personal fortune to win a primary election and claim with a straight face to be a "grassroots" candidate storming the citadel of the "ruling class" and the "elite."

Inevitably, the victories of two remarkably sketchy Tea Party–backed candidates in the Republican primaries in New York and Delaware yesterday are being cited as further proof of this year's "anti-incumbent" tide; what they are really proof of is how far to the fringe the Grand Old Party has shifted — and how much that is being exploited by the same old cut-the-taxes-on-the-wealthiest crowd, this time in the guise of populist upwell tricked out with lots of psychologically self-vindicating talk about "anger."

Polling data undeniably point to significant gains for Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections; the most recent forecast by FiveThirtyEight predicts the Republicans will pick up 57 seats in the House (to gain a 225–210 majority) and 7 in the Senate (cutting the Democratic majority to 52–48).

Such midterm gains by the party which does not hold the presidency are not exactly unprecedented. In 1994 Republicans gained 54 House seats; in 1974 Democrats gained 49; in 2006 Democrats gained 31.

There are many good explanations that can be offered for a GOP backlash this November. There is also one remarkably lazy explanation: that it reflects "an anti-incumbent sentiment," "an anti-incumbent fervor," "an anti-incumbent tide," an "anti-incumbent wave," an "anti-incumbent mood," an "anti-incumbent attitude," and "anti-incumbent disgust" . . . phrases that appeared (1140 times) in the last 30 days in the New York Times (chosen only because it is completely representative of this brand of analysis).

Here is the updated chart on the number of incumbents running for re-election who were defeated in primaries:

Stephen Budiansky; basic data: and New York Times