This year's midterm elections seemed like an incumbent's nightmare, but the numbers don't back it up. As Nathan Gonzales of FiveThirtyEight explains, the House is filled with many of the same people.
Despite a stunningly low congressional approval rating and many calls to “throw all the bums out,” we don’t have anti-incumbent elections in the United States. This year’s House elections were just another example.
There are wave elections, in which voters take out their frustrations on one party in a lopsided way. But rarely, if ever, are Democratic and Republican incumbents punished in large and equal numbers. My colleague Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report often writes about this (as he did in these columns from 2007 and 2014).
This cycle, 11 House Democrats lost re-election, assuming that Republican Martha McSally’s narrow margin over Democratic Rep. Rob Barber holds up after a recount in Arizona’s 2nd District. Just two Republican incumbents lost. Republicans may have been able to hold their incumbent losses to zero if Reps. Lee Terry of Nebraska and Steve Southerland of Florida had avoided self-inflicted wounds regarding the government shutdown and lingerie parties.
Dig deeper, and you’ll find even more evidence of an anti-Democratic Party election that didn’t affect Republican incumbents equally.
With help from a spreadsheet put together by David Wasserman, Loren Fulton and Ashton Barry, all of the Cook Political Report, I found that six Republican incumbents won re-election with 55 percent of the vote or less. By contrast, 32 Democratic incumbents won with such a narrow majority. In 2012, 15 Democratic incumbents and 32 Republican incumbents won re-election with 55 percent or less.