A postmortem on Congressional turnover

Back in June, we had discussed Congressional turnover from a historical perspective. Now that all but 10 Congressional races have been decided, we would like to revisit that discussion.

Revised thought #1: Putting this year’s turnover in perspective

While the seven incumbent Congressmen who lost in their primaries seemed low in comparison to 1992 (the year of anti incumbent semtiment when Bill Clinton was elected President and Ross Perot got 19%), the (so far) 53 incumbents who have lost exceeds the incumbent casualty rate in 1992 and even 1994 – in that landslide year, 34 incumbent Democrats were defeated. In this year’s elections, 51 Democrats and 2 Republicans (including Louisiana’s Joseph Cao) lost. This means that, at a minimum, 21% of the next Congress will be newly elected to their positions.

Revused thought #2: Current year landslides = retirements for the next election cycle

Now that the Republican wave has shown itself, the next logical question to ask is: which Democrats will decide that life in the minority is no fun and will thus retire ? That is a question worth asking, although we will not know the answer immediately. There is an additional factor as well: Congressional redistricting. In states with Republican legislatures and/or governors where Democrats survived this years wave election, those legislatures (particularly in places like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) will likely force the hand of several surviving Democrats. If we look at this historically, the 1994 GOP landslide caused 64 Congressmen (37 Democrats and 27 Republicans) to retire before the 1996 elections. Similarly, the 2006 Democratic landslide (which itself claimed 28 GOP incumbents) caused 37 Congressmen (31 Republicans and 6 Democrats) to retire before facing the voters again in 2008. Finally, the 2008 Democratic landslide (which claimed 19 GOP incumbents) initially produced a wave of Republican retirements, but after parts of the Democratic agenda (“cap and trade”, card check, healthcare reform) became more controversial with voters, Democrats began to retire earlier this year as well.

Revised thought #3: The ghost of future retirements

Even though the Senate remained in Democratic hands, the Democratic senators elected in 2000 and 2006 elections (and who twice helped put the Democrats in control of that chamber) will face the voters in 2012. And the fact that that 23 of 33 Senators in the 2012 re-election are Democrats means the GOP has an excellent chance of retaking the Senate in 2012