What happens, rather, is one of two things:
• The angry electorate either isn’t, or doesn’t bother to show up. One particularly egregious example of this misdiagnosis happened in the 1990 midterms. After gazillions of decibels’ worth of such talk, one senator lost his seat. The House reelection rate was about 96 percent.
• The angry electorate does show up at the polls but has figured out who it is angry at, and — fairly or not — punishes that party, while granting more or less full absolution to the other side.
Consider four recent instances in which voters wrought significant change on the national political landscape.
In 1994, Republicans took over both houses of Congress. Thirty-five House Democrats were defeated, including the sitting speaker and some of its most powerful committee chairmen. How many House Republicans lost their seats? None. The GOP captured eight Democratic Senate seats and unseated two incumbents. How many GOP senators lost? None.
In 2006, with the Iraq War descending into quagmire and the memory of the Katrina debacle fresh, Democrats retook Congress. Twenty-two Republican House members and six GOP senators lost. Not one Democrat in either chamber was defeated.
Two years later, as disaffected voters told President George W. Bush “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” five Republican senators and 13 House Republicans lost. Not a single Senate Democrat lost, only four House Democrats did — one of whom had been caught with $80,000 in his freezer.
And in 2010, with the economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression, and with public discontent raging, Republicans won back Congress without the loss of a single Senate seat, and with only two House defeats — one in the same overwhelmingly Democratic district that had, two years earlier, voted out the man with the cold cash.
But, we see real anti-incumbent thinking in the electorate and it never hurts to run hard against “career politicians”.
Could it be different next year? Well, polling does show that discontent is not only wider but deeper. Voters, for example usually tell pollsters they hate Congress — but their own representative deserves reelection. But only a third of voters this year said their own representative deserved reelection, according to a New York Times/CBS poll last month, while 57 percent said it was time to elect someone new.
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