The Party Line
12:53 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

Want To Throw The Bums Out? Well, Here's The Likely Result...

J. Michael Bitzer

As a result of the government shutdown, Americans are genuinely frustrated with the way that politicians are handling their governing system. 

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, only 14% of respondents said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States; a Gallup Poll found only 18% were satisfied with the way the nation was being governed. 

Being a year out, it would be very dangerous to translate this sentiment into predictions for the 2014 mid-term elections.  But both polls, and others, are finding record levels of disgust not with the political system, but rather with those who occupy the political system — even to folks who are usually immune from that disgust.

In the Pew poll, three-quarters of respondents would like to see Congress swept clean of incumbents; in comparison, both 2006 and 2010 elections saw “no more than 57%” wanting to deny re-election to most members of Congress.

A “throw the bums out” mentality is nothing new when Congress is unpopular, but there’s usually a “just don’t throw my representative out” exception.

This year seems like every incumbent who is going to be on the ballot could get the boot: Pew finds that a record 38% do not want to see their representative get re-elected, higher than the 25% in 2006 and 29% in 2010 when answering the same question. 

Granted, 2006 was a Democratic wave year while 2010 was a GOP wave year — next year could be building up to be an “everyone gets swept out” year.

But would there really be change if we cleaned out all incumbents? If North Carolina is an example, the likelihood is that we’d just get the same number of partisans in the House at least.

In 2012’s election, the redrawn congressional districts enabled each party’s congressional candidate to perform closely to the performance of the presidential candidates in the district.

US House District in NC

% of District Vote

for Obama

% of District Vote to Democratic US House Candidate

1

72%

75%

2

42%

41%

3

41%

37%

4

72%

74%

5

40%

42%

6

42%

39%

7

40%

50%

8

42%

45%

9

43%

45%

10

41%

43%

11

38%

43%

12

79%

79%

13

44%

43%

For all but the 7th Congressional District, the voting behavior for president mirrored closely with the district’s vote for the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in North Carolina last year.

The 7th Congressional District was one of the closest U.S. House contests in 2012, with Democratic incumbent Mike McIntyre edging his GOP opponent by 650 votes. 

But the district went overwhelmingly for Romney, with 60% of the vote going to the GOP presidential candidate.  Even with McIntyre’s power of incumbency and his more conservative voting record than the normal House Democrat, the likelihood is that if McIntyre were to retire, the district would quickly swing into the GOP column. 

The other 12 districts appear to be drawn to heavily favor one party over the other; so, even if the incumbent representative was denied their party’s renomination, the district would most likely elect the same party candidate it currently has.

For example, if CongressmanMel Watt vacates his seat for a position in the executive branch, the likelihood that a Republican would win the 12th District is practically inconceivable. 

Add to this the fact that even though the public is disenchanted with the current crop of elected officials, partisan voters on both sides of the fence are still very loyal.

In the same Pew poll that found 38% wanting to deny re-election to their member, Republican and Democratic respondents still said they would vote 91% and 94% for their party’s candidate. 

With that high level of party loyalty, the only opening to ‘tossing mine and everyone else’s bum of an incumbent out’ would be in the primary election. 

With typical voter turnout in mid-term primary elections averaging 15% in North Carolina, the likelihood that we would see real change by throwing all the bums out would be akin to the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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