Anti-incumbent Sentiment Opens Door of Opportunity

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The details in some of the polls now show 12% of Republicans intending to vote for Barack Obama. This reflects an anti-incumbent target bigger than individual incumbents, aimed selectively at the Republican Party itself. Given Republican control of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2007, where all spending and tax law finds its beginning, and control of the Senate from 2001 to 2007, in addition to a Republican President from 2001 to the present, and given the dire economic condition of the country and world economy today, it is no great surprise that voters would focus anti-incumbent sentiment on the Republican Party and its incumbents primarily.

Ordinarily, this would not be considered a healthy anti-incumbent movement, but yet another round of musical chairs between the duopoly parties. One can logically argue that this switching of parties does not even reflect an anti-incumbent strategy, or movement. But, as with many logical arguments, that conclusion may prove to be false, if one or more of the premises is proven false. An explanation is in order.

First, let's provide some preliminary data. From the close of the 3rd debate and Couric's interview with V.P. nominee Sarah Palin, the polls averaged, showed Obama widening his lead significantly. The last 3 days polls show a slight narrowing again, but at a rate that does not bode well for McCain given less than 2 weeks to election day.

Republicans for Obama reports a Time Magazine poll will show a 14% divergence in the crossover vote for Obama. A crossover vote is conservative voters choosing to vote for liberal candidates and vice versa. The numbers are 20% conservatives for Obama, and 6% liberals for McCain. If these numbers are valid, and combined with other polls showing a 60+ % independent vote for Obama, a potential landslide victory for Obama would appear to be in the making.

But, is this an anti-incumbent movement amongst voters, or simply a reversing of the pendulum from Republican back to Democratic party choice, as happens cyclically in American political history? Enough data is not available to make that determination. The exit polling from the election on Nov. 4 may be sufficient to answer this question definitively. But, some educated guesses are possible.

An anti-incumbent movement is a reaction toward politicians and their way of doing things across party lines. A shift in popular party choice is quite something else again. What makes the difference so very difficult to distinguish at this time is the approval ratings for all incumbents and both parties in Congress. The extremely low approval ratings of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, would point to a broad anti-incumbent sentiment. Yet, the lopsided polling in favor of Democrats in Congressional races would indicate a simple shift in popular party preference.

What appears to be occurring, using the polls as a guide, is both a sweeping anti-incumbent sentiment, combined with a populace rebuke of Republican control of government dating back to the 1995 takeover of the House of Representatives. Combined with the cumulative losses of registered voters from both the Democratic and Republican parties to independent voter status, it appears clear their is a very strong anti-incumbent undercurrent to this year's election.

There isn't however, any Ross Perot or fresh, charismatic Ralph Nader type to take on Obama and McCain as a focal point for independent voters. Which would explain the dynamic shift in the polls toward Democratic candidate Obama. And there isn't yet, a viable contending organized Independent Party capable of vying with the duopoly parties. Hence, the anti-incumbent disapproval of politicians in general is being channeled through the only alternative to Republican rule of the recent past.

If then, the conclusion that this shift from Republican to Democrat by the majority is historically cyclical in nature, a swinging back of the political pendulum if you will, is false, the premise that voters have another anti-incumbent choice is the reason. That premise is false. We live in economically chaotic times. The last thing one would reasonably expect of voters during such a time is a chaotic voting choice: a none of the above choice, or a choice of a candidate like Bob Barr, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney who haven't a prayer of winning and altering the course of our future.

During chaotic times, people seek order, uniformity, and consistency which lend themselves to predictability. Voters are seeking an orderly path out of the chaos. They are seeking an end to the threat leveled at their jobs, mortgages and homes, and ability to borrow to further their ambitions for their children, their careers, and their retirement years. None of the above, or candidates with no broad based support, are not voting options under these circumstances, even if the anti-incumbent sentiment runs deep and wide. Retaliation does not build a future.

The anti-incumbent strategy is one which sends a clear message to politicians that the public will not tolerate their actions, and will choose others, even if they are unknown and untested. In this regard, the Obama lead in the polls reflects just such a strategy by a majority of independent voters. But, at the Congressional level, gerrymandering districts by both Democrats and Republicans, to insure independent and swing voters are not concentrated in any one district diminishes the potency and even potentiality of an anti-incumbent message being sent in a time of uncertainty and need for an alternative policy direction.

This gerrymandering of districts, both hides the anti-incumbent breadth in the election data, and renders it impotent in the absence of a viable competing third party alternative. But it doesn't diminish the growth of the anti-incumbent sentiment as evidenced by the approval ratings of Congress and the President's administration. If it weren't for the desperation for an alternative economic policy direction, the disapproval ratings would be reflected in a greater anti-incumbent vote against Democrats, as well. But, the Democrats, in the absence of a competing party alternative or viable independent presidential contender, are the only alternative for a change in policy direction.

What this means, however, for the 2010 and 2012 elections cannot be understated. Even if Democrats fail to achieve a filibuster proof Senate on Nov. 4, they will, with the election of Obama, be saddled with the full responsibility for economic outcomes no later than the 2012 election. Failure to both rescue the economy, the health care system, and dramatically lower the deficit, will make Democrats the target of anti-incumbent sentiment as early as the mid-term elections in 2010.

The only way to avoid this outcome, is if the Democrats achieve a filibuster proof Senate. If they don't, Republicans will use the filibuster to prevent Democrats from succeeding in addressing the economy, health care costs, and deficit reduction. That is the Republican road back to power from a GOP strategist's point of view. Never mind that this means ruination for the United States and all the people within it.

Without a growing Independent voters party however, anti-incumbent sentiment has no vehicle to travel in, nor direction to move en masse. Obviously, the coming political situation opens the door of opportunity for a viable third party to make tremendous progress in establishing itself as a contender for the 2012 elections. Will it happen is a question that cannot be answered without a working crystal ball. But, it is an opportunity, and unlocked door, for independent voters to avail themselves if they can find a leader capable of uniting them, and drawing off ever more Democrat and Republican voters to the independent cause, backed by anti-incumbent discontent.

What would that independent party have look like to make these kind of inroads? While it can take many shapes, some essentials are necessary for success. First, it must be a party with the simplest of platforms and agendas focused on the 3 primary issues of coming years, health care cost, economy and deficits, and political - lobbyist reform.

If such a party can simply refuse to add any other agendas to its platform, it could potentially create a maelstrom of support from a third or more of all registered voters, and potentially rout half or more of Democratic and Republican politicians over the following decade, even becoming the dominant party in America's political system. This assumes of course, that it can find enough capable candidates to run as challengers for office in the Congress and for the White House.

Of course such a scenario depends upon such a Party finding its own leaders. People with charisma, vigor, intellect, education, and reputation as a fast up and comer, and an uncanny ability to organize a grass roots campaign similar to what Barack Obama has accomplished. Any takers?

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on October 22, 2008 9:59 AM.

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