Ten Miles Square


December 28, 2011 7:17 PM We Really Don’t Have Anti-Incumbent Elections

By John Sides

A few weeks ago, I was dubious about 2012 as an “anti-incumbent” election.  Alan Abramowitz brings some better data to bear:

The graph shows that when congressional incumbents lose, they tend to be mostly from one party.  There are really no elections in which large numbers of incumbents from both parties are defeated.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.


  • Darsan54 on December 29, 2011 12:15 PM:

    The national media makes a big deal about the low approval ratings of Congress, but they always fail to note it isn't "Congress" that gets re-elected, but individuals. People look at their "own" Congress rep and decide they aren't like the rest of those "Congressmen". Thus incumbents stay despite all the hand-wringing from pundits.

  • Lance on December 29, 2011 2:45 PM:

    That is very insightful. Thanks,

  • smartalek on January 14, 2012 4:18 PM:

    A comment from the better-late-than-never department:
    Two thoughts on this.
    First, what's really interesting from the larger perspective is not how many (in actual numbers)of congresscritters from each party lost in any given election, but the relative numbers (in %-ages) of sitting members of that party lost.
    It seems to me (intuitively) at least possible that the %ages don't vary as much as the actual numbers do. Clearly, when one party has way more representation than the other, they have more to lose. The same percentages of loss would thus show as higher actual numbers.
    On the other hand, it also seems not just possible, but likely, that the very same concentration of power in one party might lead them to over-reach (as the Pubbies did between '04 and '08, resulting in the Obama / Demo ascendancy), to the point that the %-age loss to that party could possibly go up dramatically.
    (Obvious caveat: this clearly isn't the only dynamic at work. The Pubbies and corporate-media love to portray the TeaParty "surge" of '10 as a reaction to "liberal" over-reach on the part of our President and the Dem's then in the "majority" of both Houses of Congress. I'd guess that most commenters here would agree with me that we should be so lucky, and that the exact opposite is a better description of that reality. The many serial "concessions" -- I'm trying to be as civil as possible here by not writing "weaknesses," "failures," "sellouts," or "betrayals" -- of the President and the ConservaDems in '09 and '10, kept millions of Dem voters on the sidelines, allowing a modest number of radical-right voters to have outsized impact in that election.)
    I'm too lazy to do the googling and #-crunching involved; does anyone just happen to know the rough %age values off the top of their heads?

    Curious captcha: "v1i therspea" -- but the "i" is written as a subscript -- and I can't get this MS OS to let me put a subscript in there.