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Friday, November 16, 2012

A Good Year for Incumbents

About one in five U.S. registered voters (21%) say most members of Congress deserve re-election, the lowest percentage Gallup has found in the 20-year history of asking this question. The prior lows of 28% were recorded in 2010 and earlier this year.
Voters are more charitable in their evaluations of their own member of Congress, with 54% saying he or she deserves re-election, compared with 57% in May. The electorate has consistently been more likely to say their member of Congress deserves re-election than to say most members do. However, even though a majority believes their own representative should be re-elected, the current percentage is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically. The lowest readings were 48% in October 1992 and 49% on two occasions in 2010.
So did a lot of incumbents lose?  No.

In the Senate, 10 incumbents retired this year, leaving 23 who sought reelection.  One (Lugar of Indiana) lost a primary and one (Scott Brown of Massachusetts) lost the general.  The remaining 21 all won, for a reelection rate of 91 percent.  That is on the high side for Senate elections.  

Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress:
These departures left 391 lawmakers who sought reelection.  Of those,
  • 13 lost primaries,
  • 24 lost the general election,
  • 2 are running behind in undecided races, and
  • 1 is certain to lose an incumbent-v.-incumbent runoff in Louisiana, so
  • 351 won reelection.
Let us assume that the two members running behind (West of Florida and Bilbray of California) lose their races, and that two others running ahead in undecided races (Barber of Arizona and McIntyre of North Carolina) end up winning.  If 351 is the final number, then the reelection rate is 90 percent.  That figure is actually on the low side for the House -- but artificially so.  Because of redistricting, 12 incumbents lost to other incumbents either in primaries or general elections.  If we exclude those races (plus the pending incumbent-v.-incumbent runoff in Louisiana), the reelection rate is 93 percent.

And even that figure gives an inflated sense of anti-incumbent sentiment.  Of those who lost, a number were running in substantially new territory because of redistricting (e.g., Mary Bono Mack of California).