Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2010 is NOT an anti-incumbent year, it's an anti left-of-center year...

Many analysts and pundits have been trying to determine the theme of the upcoming 2010 mid-terms elections. Will it be a repeat of the so-called "angry, white male election" of 1994? Will the Tea Party movement deliver an anti-establishment election? Many friends of the Democratic Party have sought to portray the coming election as anything but a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic Party. Rather, they argue that economic insecurity and frustration with Washington - the same anger and frustration that elected Barack Obama - is feeding a non-partisan anti-incumbent mood among the electorate. This narrative is crucial to Democrats as it helps them convince their vulnerable incumbents that the electorate is simply anti politics and not anti Democratic policies. 

Purveyors of this narrative point to the May defeat of Republican Senator Bob Bennett at the party's nominating convention in Utah as proof. As added insurance for their argument they point to the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District where Democrat Mark Critz easily defeated Republican Tim Burns in a district that had voted for John McCain in 2008. If this were simply an anti-Democrat year, the argument goes, then why the defeat of Bennett and the election of Critz?

At first blush, it is a reasonable argument, but dig a bit deeper and the narrative unravels. 2010 is not shaping up to be a simple anti-incumbent year, nor is it simply an anti-Democrat year. All indications are that 2010 is shaping up to be an anti left of center year and that hurts Democrats. Republican Bob Bennett lost because he was perceived as being too moderate and too willing to compromise with the Democratic party - though to many this may be an admirable trait it was not among GOP faithful this year. Democrat Marc Critz won a special election in a Congressional district that has been held by Democrats for over 3 decades and he won by running as a very conservative Democrat. Critz openly opposed the Obama health reform bill, declared himself to be firmly pro-life, and was unabashedly pro-gun rights. Critz won by running as a Republican.

There are a few other races of note as well. West Virginia Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan was defeated in his state's primary by a wide margin. His 14 term career ended at the hands of a conservative Democrat who campaigned against Mollohan's support of health reform. The case of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas is also worthy of mention. Lincoln failed to break 50% in her state's primary as she faced a challenge from the left from Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter. In the subsequent run-off contest many considered Lincoln to be a goner. Lincoln withstood the challenge - largely with the help of the consummate centrist, Bill Clinton. So the more liberal incumbent loses in W. VA and the moderate incumbent wins in AR. It's not just an anti-incumbent year.

New polls from Gallup and NPR offer further evidence that 2010 is an anti-left of center year. The Gallup poll found that a record high share of Americans consider the Democratic party to be "too liberal."  According to Gallup "Americans have become increasingly likely to describe the Democratic Party's views as "too liberal" (49%), and less likely to say its views are "about right" (38%). Americans' views of the Republican Party, on the other hand, have moderated slightly..."

Gallup further shows Republicans with a 5 point lead over Democrats on the generic ballot question - historically, Republicans rarely lead the generic ballot.

The NPR poll offers worse news for Democrats. "Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger conducted the first public battleground poll of this election cycle. They chose the 70 House districts experts regard as most likely to oust incumbents this fall. What they found was grim news for Democrats." Of the 70 districts, 60 are held by Democrats. In those Democratic districts voters indicated that they WILL NOT vote for the incumbent by an overwhelming 56% to 36% margin. In the Republican districts, Voters said they WOULD support the incumbent by a 52% to 39% margin.

Overall, Republicans enjoy an 8 point advantage in the 70 battleground districts - including a 5 point advantage in the 60 Democratic districts. The NPR poll also found that President Obama is quite unpopular in those 70 districts with 54 percent of likely battleground voters disapproving of Obama's performance and 40 percent approving. Republican voters are also far more energized.

Taken together, all of this suggests that any attempt to define 2010 as an anti-incumbent year is simply wrong. 2010 will be an anti-Democrat year, but largely it would seem that is a manifestation of what is an anti-liberal year. News that will no doubt frustrate many liberals who have lamented that the President and his party have not been aggressive enough in pursuing progressive policies. If this trend continues, expect Republicans to win the 40 seats needed to retake the House and to win at least 7 Senate seats.