The Campaign Spot


2012: An Across-the-Board Anti-Incumbent Year?

Reid Wilson looks at the numbers and suggests that 2012 might be a genuine anti-incumbent year, as opposed to previous “anti-incumbent” years that turned out to be bad for only one party’s incumbents.

For all the attention the “Republican Revolution” class of 1994 received, more new members came to Congress after the 1992 election. More than a quarter of the entire House — 110 members — were freshmen (compared with 85 in 1994).

This cycle’s mood mirrors 1992. Just 9 percent of the electorate approve of Congress, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll. And 79 percent told ABC News/Washington Post pollsters they are dissatisfied with the way the country’s political system is working, only 2 percentage points off the 81 percent who said the same thing just before the 1992 elections.

And, as in 1992, redistricting is adding to the tumult as even seemingly safe members have to contend with thousands of new voters who want change. As in 1992, no incumbent next year is truly secure, whether in primary or general elections.

The only problem with this assessment that the ideological division in the 2012 presidential election is going to be pretty stark. Could Americans, dissatisfied by what they’re getting under divided government of a Democratic president and a Republican House, decide they want a Republican president and a Democratic House? That they want a conservative approach in the executive branch, and then lower on the ticket, they want a congressional candidate explicitly running against that approach? Not unthinkable, but a bit hard to imagine. Presidents have coattails, long and short, for a reason.