Did Voters Throw the Bums Out?

As we all know by now, Democrats have taken control of the House and (almost certainly) the Senate.  So was this a watershed election? 

Sure, it’s extremely rare for both houses of Congress to change hands in a single election and there’s quite a bit of buzz about a few high-profile incumbents who lost their jobs.

But now that the dust is almost settled, it looks like we will welcome only about 60 new faces to Capitol Hill.  And while there are a few races still too close to call, incumbents have been extremely successful in winning reelection. 

Consider that there were 435 races in the House and Senate with an incumbent trying to retain his or her seat.  Only 26 – 6% – of challengers in these races have won.  That’s pretty low for a “throw the bums out” election.  Pending the outcome of three or four yet-to-be-determined races, this year’s 94% incumbent reelection rate appears to be slightly higher than the 90% rate of 1994.

I should note that this figure doesn’t include the three incumbents who were defeated earlier this year in a primary election.  But even one casualty of his primary switched his party registration and managed to hold onto his seat.

The moral of the story: if you’re an incumbent member of Congress and you want to stay in office, there’s a pretty good chance you will be successful.  Just don’t forget to send ‘thank you’ cards to Senators McCain, Feingold, and all the gerrymandering folks who helped make your reelection possible.