By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Could the anti-incumbent fever be breaking?

It depends on how seriously you regard polls taken six months before the November election. But there’s some intriguing news on several fronts today:

  • Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing in his re-election battle has jumped 10 points in a month, according to Rasmussen. He now leads Republican Charlie Baker by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, with independent Tim Cahill bringing up the rear at 14 percent. It appears that the Republican Party’s relentlessly negative anti-Cahill ads have damaged Cahill without doing much for Baker.
  • Public Policy Polling reports that President Obama’s approval/disapproval rating is now 50 percent/46 percent, his best standing since last October.
  • Even Harry Reid is looking less like a goner than he has in many months.

Who knows what will happen over the next few months? These things generally come down to the economy, and the recovery has been slow and unsteady. At the very least, though, it seems that the throw-them-all-out story line has been called into question.

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  1. Steve Stein

    On the other hand, two incumbents have lost primaries in the past week – Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Congressman Alan Mollohan (D-WV).

    Harry Reid has been the beneficiary of a monstrous gaffe by his Republican challenger Sue (“chickens for checkups”) Lowden.

    As the economy continues to improve, the main thrust of Republican opposition (“where’s the jobs?”) seems increasingly out of touch. But we’ve got a LONG way to go digging out of the hole this recession left us in, and unemployment will probably still be north of 9% on election day.

    Jon Keller notes that Deval’s negatives are as large as his positives in this poll, and 60% of independents want someone else. 45% will probably win a 3-way race, but if Baker and the RGA can take Cahill out of the mix, Baker stands a good chance of winning.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: Bennett did not lose a primary. In Utah, the Republicans choose their candidates at their convention. And it was packed with tea-party activists.

      No one is saying Baker doesn’t stand a good chance of winning. It’s only May.

  2. L.K. Collins

    As I recall, you opined that Scott Brown was a non-starter until just before the election.

    Old recipe for chicken soup: First steal your chicken.

  3. Mike Benedict

    Is Scott Brown still a senator?

    If so, he won’t be for long.

  4. Steve Stein

    True, Dan (about Bennett). I stand corrected.

  5. BP Myers

    Give the topsy-turvy, upside-down political world we’re living in, you even have to wonder if the you-can-stake-your-mortgage-on-it certainty that the party in power will lose seats in a mid-term election even gets turned on its head.

    But I’m the one who said Coakley was smart to sit on her lead, so don’t listen to me.

  6. L.K. Collins

    Gee, Mr. Benedict, can you explain what happened to a long-standing Democratic Representative from the State of West Virginia just yesterday?

    Can you tell us why Rep William Delahunt has chickened out of a “sure thing” race?

    Can you tell us why poor Rep Patrick the Challenged won’t stand for re-election?

    Come on, you seem to know all. Please tell us poor mortals ….

  7. L.K. Collins

    The statistics that I found interesting in this week’s crop were the generic races for congress and the generic Republican against Obama.

    They both came in at 41% to 41%. That leaves a whopping 18% in the undecided column.

    It will be interesting to track how this undecided percentage moves over time.

    That, I think, will be a more reliable indicator than any of the horse-race polls that are usually shown.

  8. Mike Benedict

    Obsessions, obsessions.

  9. Steve Stein

    @LK – that happens a lot with “generic” candidates. I believe it was even true with a “generic” Democrat vs Bush in 2003. It was almost always true with a “generic” Democrat vs all the Republican governors in Mass.

    Unfortunately, a party can’t run a “generic” candidate. They have to pick someone. And once they do that, some of the support will inevitably slip away. See John Kerry 2004, or Shannon O’Brien 2002.

  10. L.K. Collins

    Agreed, a generic candidate doesn’t exist. Too bad, he/she might actually be able to accomplish something were it a reality.

    When you consider that within each 41%, there are a significant number of registered Indpendents who, by definition, do not inherently opt for a specific party,
    added to the 18% not making a selection for a generic candidate, you are left with the thought that there is room for a lot of potential for upheaval in the upcoming election(s).

    Does anyone really believe that the state of the Commonwealth is good these days? $4.5 Billion potential deficit by this time next year? Right!

    These factored with the broadening independent ranks, make real change, at least in the faces of the political leaders, a likely outcome.

  11. Steve Stein

    The “independent voter” is a myth, pretty much. According to a 2008 survey:

    “About 40 percent of the respondents identified themselves as independents, which was considerably more than the 34 percent who identified with the Democratic Party or the 26 percent who identified with the Republican Party. However, when these independent identifiers were asked a follow-up question, nearly three-fourths of them indicated that they usually felt closer to one of the two major parties. Only 11 percent of the respondents were “pure independents” with no party preference.”

  12. Brad Deltan

    I think a lot of the “throw the bums out” mentality is cooling with the realization that EVERYONE who wants the job is a “bum” in the eyes of most of the throwers.

  13. L.K. Collins

    Yea, I agree Mr. Deltan.

    It has all the signs of selection which bum you want to have being in the bum seat.

  14. Michael Pahre

    It’s the economy, stupid. [Directed at no one in particular.]

    If the economy is steadily improving, including a reduction in the unemployment rate, then Democrats will do well — at least limiting their losses. If the economy is stagnant, then 1994 redivivus.

  15. Brad Deltan

    @Michael Pahre: I have a feeling this is less true than you’d think. Or perhaps true, but not in the obvious context.

    I say that simply because people have so consistently voted AGAINST their best interests when it comes to economic benefit. The “keep your government hands off my medicare” crowd rather aptly demonstrates that. People in various socio-economic strata voted for Bush even though he demonstrably made most of their lives worse. (economically-speaking)

    And in fairness, this phenomena long pre-dated Bush. Nixon, anyone? And Clinton did a lot of things (or laid the groundwork for them) that only now are seeing how heinous they really were.

    I think people tend to vote for the candidate who they think acts the same way THEY would if they were the candidate…no matter how self-destructive that concept usually is.

  16. L.K. Collins

    I guess we’ll get a better idea when we see the results of the primary races that we see Sen. Lincoln and Sen. Spectre find themselves in.

    Anti-incumbency and anti-entitlement does seem to be carrying the the day in many sectors of the company.

    Surely the economy will be a important, but so, too, will become the question of how fat and comfortable the cat in the seat has become.

  17. Mike Benedict

    @Brad, while you are correct in the micro sense, what @Michael Pahre says is probably best viewed in the macro sense, and taken that way, he’s right. The economy was improving post-9/11 when the Bush-Kerry election took place. It was improving when Clinton and Reagan ran for their second terms. It was declining when Bush 1 and Carter were tossed.

    I’m not saying factors like wars (or blatant government corruption; see Nixon) won’t heavily influence future votes, but I think recent history say they take a back seat.

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