Will voters kick out all incumbents in 2012?
Probably not – even though most Americans dislike both political parties. There are three scenarios for 2012. The most likely: If the economy remains weak and the GOP picks an acceptable candidate, voters will kick out both Obama and Democrats from power.
Our federal lawmakers have managed to unite Americans on an important issue: Democrats, Republicans, and independents disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. In all three groups, according to Gallup, approval of the institution falls below 20 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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Split-party control is one reason. Democrats dislike the GOP majority in the House, Republicans dislike the Democratic majority in the Senate, and independents dislike the fighting between the two chambers. Things were different two years ago, when both houses were under Democratic control. In the spring of 2009, Congress’s approval rating was 20 percent among Republicans, 29 percent among independents, but 63 percent among Democrats.
The current levels of disapproval are more than a matter of mere partisanship, however. Because of a weak economy and a mounting national debt, Americans are broadly unhappy with the way the federal government is working.
A majority of respondents told NBC pollsters that, if it were possible, they would vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative. Surveys also show that most Americans don’t think that President Obama deserves reelection.
So will voters sweep everybody out next year?
Three possible scenarios
Although it’s theoretically possible that the electorate could turn against incumbents of both parties, such a result would be unprecedented in the modern era.
When large numbers of lawmakers go down, the bulk of the losses come from one party or the other. It’s even harder to picture a situation where voters would oust both Mr. Obama and the Republican majority in Congress. Other election scenarios are more plausible.
The first is the Truman 1948 scenario. That is, a feisty president rallies support, wins an upset victory, and restores his party to power on Capitol Hill. But as political scientist Brendan Nyhan has pointed out, it’s a myth that Harry S. Truman won because of his “give ’em hell” style. He won because the economy was doing well for most of 1948, and Democrats had a big lead in party identification.
Neither of those conditions seems likely for 2012.
The status quo
The second is the status quo scenario. Voters retain both the incumbent president and the current House majority. In light of voter dissatisfaction, this outcome may seem far-fetched. But remember that in the past four presidential reelections under divided government – 1956, 1972, 1984, and 1996 – voters indeed kept the opposition party in control of the House.