Anti-Incumbent Voters Win

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After spending 10 hours glued to the TV watching the election results, it became obvious none of the politicians, or the pundits for that matter, understood what was taking place. The change in leadership in the House of Representatives, and likely the Senate, was a result of a growing anti-incumbent movement amongst voters, which decided to hold incumbents responsible for lack of results and solutions to America's growing list of problems.

By 2:15 AM this morning, the spin had already begun. James Carville (D) said this was not an anti-incumbent election, but an anti-Republican one. Halley Barbour (R) said this switching of parties was just part of the cycle, which voters go through every 12 to 16 years. Others said this was all about Iraq. But, they missed the central theme of yesterday's elections.

Statistics will be crunched and analyzed for months to come. However, some statistics now available speak to changes in American voting. The Libertarian Party ran over 600 candidates in this election, won no federal races, but as of early this morning, had won 7 local water district, city, and county council races nationwide with many results not yet reported on their web site. The Green Party ran 389 candidates in 38 states nationwide. Greens have won 48 local races, so far this year. Clearly, these third party gains in local races evidence the growing anti-incumbent sentiment toward Democrats and Republicans. In my own state of Texas, I saw a huge jump in the number of Libertarian candidates on the ballot running for court and commissioner races.

What is crucial in understanding the election results, I believe, is the lack of alternative to incumbents provided by third party candidates at the federal level. Third Party candidates running for U.S. Congress were small in number and had relatively little campaign money in this most expensive of all mid-term elections in American history; 2.8 billion dollars. With little money and no name recognition, third party candidates did not provide anti-incumbent voters a viable option even if they were on the ballot for federal office. Consequently, voters looking to register an anti-incumbent vote in the ballot box, were far more inclined to vote for Democrat or Republican challenger. That said, it may yet prove to be true as the numbers are crunched, that votes for third party candidates registered higher in this election on a district, by district basis, than in previous mid-terms over the last decade.

Clearly, growing numbers of Independent voters sometimes referred to as swing voters, who have rejected straight party ticket voting, were crucial in last night's results. When I do a web search for 'decline to state', there are a number of articles referencing the declining number of registered Republicans and Democrats which can only mean a shift toward Independent voters in America, reserving their right to vote against incumbents regardless of which party they tend to favor. In California for example, David Lesher of The New America Foundation reports:

The state's population growth has added 2.4 million citizens to the voter rolls since 1990. Meanwhile, the percentage of registered Democrats declined from 49.9 percent to 42.7 percent, while the Republican share dropped from 39 percent to 34.7 percent.

Yesterday's exit polls indicated:

Asked which issues were extremely important to their vote, 42 percent said corruption and ethics; 40 percent, terrorism; 39 percent, the economy; 37 percent, Iraq; 36 percent, values; and 29 percent, illegal immigration.
Those voters most concerned with corruption or, whose financial situation had not improved in the last 2 years, voted against Republicans. This constituted a clear anti-incumbent vote at play, and negates James Carville's spin that there was no anti-incumbent vote. Carville would have Americans believe voters elected Democrats because of their party platform and agenda. In previous polls, it was shown most American voters not registered as Democrats, did not know what Democrat's platform or agenda was, other than being against Pres. Bush, and the Republicans.

Surprisingly the poll indicated voters trusted Democrats and Republicans about equally on the war on terrorism, effectively removing that issue as a main driver in the election results.

Corruption was the biggest issue for voters according to exit poll results as reported by CNN: " when asked which issue was extremely important to their vote, more voters said corruption and ethics in government than any other issue, including the war, according to national exit polls." Assuming the public does not find the Democratic Party very much more desirable when it comes to corruption and ethics, this appears to be major evidence that an anti-incumbent sentiment is very much in play in the election results. Voting for the challenger instead of the incumbent was a way for voters to register their dissatisfaction on this issue. And, since Republicans controlled the branches of government, these 'complaint' votes would predictably go to the challenger, accounting for Democratic gains.

There is a lesson to be learned here, and indeed, some politicians anticipated the lesson and began speaking to it before the polls opened. Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain both remarked this week that American voters are looking for results, looking for solutions to our nation's problems first, and foremost. Since both are likely to be running for President in 2008, it is somewhat encouraging to see that they get how to speak to anti-incumbent voters.

Yesterday's election results reflect a clear intent by voters, not for Democratic leadership, but for politicians to produce positive results, lasting solutions, and attendance to the issues which the voters most care about, or be removed from office. That is an anti-incumbent message. This was an anti-incumbent election. But, I suspect most politicians won't see it that way, and have not yet learned the lesson voters tried to teach this November 7, 2006.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on November 8, 2006 3:56 AM.

Re-elect Larry, Moe, and Curly? was the previous entry in this blog.

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