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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

July 11: No Bipartisan Anti-Incumbent Wave In Sight

Every time polls show high “wrong track” and low congressional approval numbers (particularly in a time of divided control of Congress), you’ll find someone predicting a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave that will sweep out the old and sweep in the new regardless of party. Something vaguely like that sometimes occurs to House incumbents in a redistricting year (though it didn’t much happen in 2012), but not so much any other time. And so far 2014 is no exception, as I pointed out today at Washington Monthly:

I suppose it could happen in November (though a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave is the Loch Ness Monster of electoral phenomena). But as Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball points out, the primary season so far is making this a banner year for incumbent survival:

So far this cycle, 273 of 275 House incumbents who wanted another term have been renominated, and 18 of 18 Senate incumbents. That includes results from the 31 states that have held their initial primaries; while a few of those states — Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina — have runoffs coming up later this month, those overtime elections for House or Senate seats are all in open seats.
This is a better performance than the postwar averages in both chambers. Since the end of World War II, just 1.6% of House incumbents who have sought another term were not renominated by their party, and just 4.6% of Senate incumbents.

To put it another way, Eric Cantor’s loss in Virginia constitutes exactly one-half of the incumbent primary losses in either party this cycle (so far). That’s all the more reason it was so noteworthy.

And so hard to explain. Don’t expect a recurrence any time soon.

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