We’ve all seen the polls showing Congress with historic low approval ratings (the most recent poll by CBS shows 11% approval, 82% disapproval). Incumbents nationwide are feeling the pressure and some seemingly-safe political giants, like Barney Frank, are calling it quits on their own terms before their constituents do it on theirs.
In the wake of the GOP route of 2010, Republicans were crowing that new majorities in state legislatures nationally would enable redistricting to further cement the congressional majorities, possibly even gaining seats. However, reality set in and setbacks in Texas, California, Ohio, Illinois, and possibly even Florida have changed that forecast.
Most troubling however is that the anti-incumbent mood is likely to have more impact on Republicans than Democrats, in spite of the fact that the issues matrix favors right-of-center policies.
First, there are more Republicans than Democrats in Congress so on the natural, Republicans have more to defend as incumbents. But that’s not the most troubling news.
I’ve sat through focus groups of Republicans and Democrats and reviewed polling in races in several states and the larger concern is that the Republican base is actually more anti-incumbent than the Democrat base and if disillusioned right-of-center voters exercise their anger against their party, it will create an advantage for Democrats.
In a recent focus group, which featured separate groups of Republicans and Democrats, we asked questions focused on incumbency. An overwhelming majority of swing Republican votes expressed their desire to vote against incumbents based almost exclusively on incumbency.
Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of swing Democrat voters cited a candidate’s incumbency as a reason to vote for them, citing their “experience” and the fact that they “already know the job.” That is a very differing worldview and exposes a very real concern that Republican incumbents need to navigate facing a surly electorate.
A friend of mine, who ran for reelection to an obscure local office, was reelected but by a narrower margin than expected for an office that is very low profile and part of a body that is very well-managed. The number one thing my friend heard was, “You are doing a great job but you are an incumbent and I’m voting against all incumbents this year.”
It is incumbent on Republican incumbents to focus on branding themselves as solutions to the problem rather than the problem itself or Democrats are in for a very happy new year.