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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 03:56 PM
Original message
The Myth of Presidential Incumbency – Advantage Applies Only to Dems
I have read a lot on DU lately (because of the looming possibility of a Republican incumbent running in 2008) about the supposed advantages of the incumbency in U.S. Presidential elections. Let’s take a look at the facts of the matter since 1908, which marks the end of the Presidency of our last progressive Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt.


A re-formulation of the supposed advantages of incumbency

The first principle is that, everything else being equal, Republicans have a natural advantage in any election, by virtue of the fact that they are the Party of privilege and wealth, so they almost always have the backing of big money and power. How can I say that when, of the 24 Presidential elections since 1908, the Republicans and the Democrats have each won 12? I say that because when an incumbent President has NOT run in these elections, the Republicans have won 7 out of 8 of them (Taft, Harding, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush I, and Bush II). This includes, of course, 2000, when Bush was installed as President over Gore, even though Gore won the popular vote (and the electoral vote too). In this case, it was Republican money and power (and ruthlessness) in the post-election period, plus five corrupt Republican Supreme Court judges, that were responsible for a Republican “victory”. The only exception to this general rule was 1960, when Kennedy won a very narrow victory over Nixon.

But it is a very different story when incumbents run in Presidential elections, because in that case, it seems, the experience of the electorate with the performance in office of the incumbent President becomes such an important factor that it overwhelms the natural Republican advantage of having the backing of big money and power. In these elections, Democratic incumbents do quite well, because the electorate has experienced the benefits of Democratic policies. In stark contrast, the generally dismal performance of Republican Presidents actually puts them at a disadvantage. Let’s take a look at the data on this:


Outcomes of U.S. elections since 1908 when incumbents run for re-election

Of 8 Democratic incumbents who have run for re-election since 1908, 7 have won (Wilson, Roosevelt , Truman, Johnson, and Clinton). The only exception to this was 1980, when Jimmy Carter lost his bid for re-election to Reagan.

Republican incumbents have faired much more poorly. Of the 8 Republicans who have run for re-election since 1908, only 3 have won re-election AND completed their term in office (Coolidge, Eisenhower, and Reagan). Four were defeated for re-election (Taft, Hoover, Ford, Bush I), and one (Nixon) was re-elected but had to resign because he was caught in a scandal. I’m not counting Bush II in these statistics because he has not yet completed his term (and hopefully will not), and also because the high technology involved in the 2004 election made possible secret vote counting on a scale not previously seen in our country, and therefore the actual results of the election are very much in doubt.


Explanation for the Democratic incumbent advantage versus the Republican incumbent disadvantage

First, I believe that it’s fair to say that in virtually every, if not every, Presidential election since 1908, the Democratic candidate has been more liberal on domestic policy than the Republican candidate (though I’m not very familiar with some of the losing candidates of the early 20th Century, it’s hard to imagine a Democratic candidate more conservative than Taft, Harding, or Coolidge, or a Republican candidate more liberal than FDR – and Wilson was very liberal on domestic policy in general for his time, though he was the only racist Democratic President we had in the 20th Century).

In any event, one of the most important figures in judging the relative friendliness of an Administration to the common people versus the wealthy and the privileged is the rate of job gain (or loss). The bulk of the population benefits greatly from a high rate of job gain, but it is more profitable to big business when the rate of job gain is low or negative, because that creates more competition in the job market, thereby giving business greater power (to pay lower wages, require longer hours, and put less money into improving the work environment, etc.) relative to labor. So, let’s take a look at how our Presidents have done in this category, from 1923 to 2003:

Rate of annual job gain during U.S. Presidencies: 1923-2003, in descending order *
Roosevelt (D)…………..5.3%
Johnson (D)……………...3.8%
Carter (D)………………...3.1%
Truman (D)…………….…2.5%
Clinton (D)…………….… 2.4%
Kennedy (D)…………....2.3%
Nixon (R)………………....2.2%
Reagan (R)……………….2.1%
Coolidge (R)……………..1.1%
Ford (R)……………...…….1.1%
Eisenhower (R).………..0.9%
Bush I (R)………………...0.6%
Bush II (R)…………….…-0.7%
Hoover (R)…………….…-9.0%
* James Carville in “Fighting Back”

Notice a pattern?

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blm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:04 PM
Response to Original message
1. Doesn't factor in that GOP cronies bought up most broadcast media in the
80s and 90s to assure their political leverage.

I know Carville NEVER acknowledges the fact that most broadcast media is controlled by GOP loyalists.
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Dr Fate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:18 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I don't see too many elected DEMs saying that to Wolf's face either.
n/t
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 10:19 PM
Response to Reply #2
12. Yeah, they really have us over a barrel
The fact that the MSM is under the control of the opposition party is a huge disadvantage.

But Democrats are afraid that if they say anything about it they'll become a target. And they're probably right.
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Dr Fate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 11:50 PM
Response to Reply #12
14. When are they not "targets" anyway?
???
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 10:09 AM
Response to Reply #14
20. Well, of course they are targets anyway
But those who complain, or those who take other specific kinds of actions will become special targets. Like Howard Dean. Most politicians feel that they can't handle that kind of heat.

But I would certainly love to see someone start giving it back to them. They would certainly try to destroy that person, but I would still nevertheless love to see it.
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Dr Fate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 11:06 AM
Response to Reply #20
21. They already try to destroy Democrats. May as well give it back. n/t
Edited on Thu Oct-20-05 11:06 AM by Dr Fate
n/t
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:31 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. Of course, there are a lot of factors that I haven't factored in here
You are certainly correct that the consolidation of the broadcast media gave Republicans even more political leverage with the rich and powerful than they previously had. And I believe that this has provided them with a very large advantage.

But even in spite of that, Clinton won fairly easily in 96, despite finding himself in the midst of a scandal that was magnified considerably by the MSM. I don't know of any Republicans who could have survived all that.
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blm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:49 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. They didn't assert control till AFTER 96. They did that PURELY for BushInc
You think they wanted Dole in there? They wanted Dems destroyed and used Clinton's peccadilloes to do it.

The media has NOTHING to do with what the RICH think. It has EVERYTHING to do with what the working and middle class think.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 05:38 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. You're saying "The media have nothing to do with what the rich think"?
I don't get it.

Are you saying that they represent the interests of the working and middle class? I don't know if that's what you're implying, but I have real problems with that if it is.

You also say that they are primarily doing it for BushInc. Certainly you're not saying that BushInc represents the working and middle class, are you?
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blm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 05:43 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. No. The rich USE the media to shape the thoughts of the working class and
especially the middle class. They get them to vote against themselves by demagoguing social issues.

That's why they spewed propaganda from BushInc 24/7 on all the cable news channels for years. You think it was just coincidence that most people believed that Bush was strong on terror? The media TOLD them he was.

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 07:25 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. I agree with that absolutely
Bush couldn't have come anywhere near the Presidency without being constantly propped up by the MSM.

But doesn't that support my point?
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blm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 07:54 AM
Response to Reply #11
18. My point was that media is used to shape the thoughts of the poor and
the corporatists who bought up most of broadcast media knew they could control their voting patterns by controlling the issues and the way they're portrayed.

That's why there was DELIBERATELY more talk last year about gay marriage than there was about the loss of overtime pay for many workers.

So, the corporate buyup of the media and their motives for doing so HAS to be factored in to presidential elections WAY more than most any other factor.

No analyst ever even mentions it.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 08:19 AM
Response to Reply #18
19. Yes, I agree with all of that
And you express it very well.

What I'm saying is that this whole issue is part and parcel of the theory that I express in my OP. The GOP has a natural advantage in any election to start off with because they are backed by the rich and the powerful.

Control of the news media is one manifestation of that. Of course, it may very well be that this fact has elevated the natural GOP advantage so far that even when incumbents are involved in elections the Democrats will do much more poorly than they previously did. Time will tell on that one. The only experience we've had with that so far is 2004. Without a doubt Bush needed to be propped up by the MSM to come anywhere close to Kerry in that election. Simply reporting on his hidden mike during the debates would have derailed his candidacy. But even with all that propping up, I still don't believe that he won a legitimate election: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...

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tritsofme Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:22 PM
Response to Original message
3. These numbers viewed from a post-WWII perspective probably change
I don't think its entirely relavent to look at 1908 and compare partisianship directly to today's politcal landscape.

We have an inherent advantage in 2008 only because the GOP will have been in power for 8 years and the country will be ripe for change.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 05:17 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. What evidence do you have that this has changed since WW II?
The pattern that I described applies just as much before WW II as after it.

As far as I can tell, ever since 1908 the Democrats have been the liberal party and the Republicans have been the conservative party. Can you think of an election since 1908 where the Republican candidate was the more liberal of the two?

And as for having an advantage in 2008 simply because the GOP has been in power for 8 years, what about Hoover winning in 1928 and Bush I in 1988? And look how long the Dems held power between 1932 and 1952. Don't you think that that had a lot to do with FDR's performance in office? I think that he would have continued to be elected for another 20 years had he lived that long and was still interested in the job.
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rinsd Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 04:41 PM
Response to Original message
5. A couple of things....
Ford shouldn't count as he was never elected in the first place.

Johnson was only elected once and did not seek re-election.

Though Nixon was ultimately driven from office, he won his re-election in a landslide.

"Democratic incumbents do quite well, because the electorate has experienced the benefits of Democratic policies"

I think that's a bit simplistic and misleading.

I think another poster nailed it one the head. Democrats have an inherent advatage in 2008 against even an "incumbent" GOPer because the people are very likely to be looking for a change after 8 years.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 06:16 PM
Response to Reply #5
10. Some more things
I don't see why Ford shouldn't count. What does the fact that he was not elected have to do with it. He was voted out of office for the same reason that other Republican incumbents have done poorly -- because they didn't like his performance. And if you don't count Ford, you can't count Coolidge either.

Johnson won re-election because people were happy with his performance. We don't know what would have happened had he run for a 3rd term. I think that it's very safe to say that if Kennedy hadn't been assassinated he would have won re-election.

Yes, Nixon won re-election. But he didn't finish his term for the same reason that many Republican Presidents don't get re-elected -- a failed Presidency.

And why do you say that it's simplistic and misleading to claim that Democratic incumbents do quite well because the electorate is happy with them? Look at the job growth figures? Don't you think that that's a major issue when people go to vote? Why do you think that FDR got re-elected 3 times? And why did Clinton get re-elected despite a major scandal and perhaps the worst media coverage the country had ever seen? Don't you think that it had a lot to do with peoples' economic status? Why have 7 of 8 Democratic incumbents during the 20th Century all been re-elected despite the hostility of the rich and powerful?
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rinsd Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 11:16 AM
Response to Reply #10
22. Even more things.....
"I don't see why Ford shouldn't count. What does the fact that he was not elected have to do with it. He was voted out of office for the same reason that other Republican incumbents have done poorly -- because they didn't like his performance."

He had all of two years in office. I'm not saying Ford would have been a great President. But after Watergate, his chances were slim and none of being elected.

"And if you don't count Ford, you can't count Coolidge either."

Fine. We should settle on a definition for re-election. My feeling is that if they came into office taking over from the VP spot, than won or lost and election that would be their first and not a re-election.

"Johnson won re-election because people were happy with his performance."

Again that was his own election after taking over in office.

"We don't know what would have happened had he run for a 3rd term."

True, we don't but it looked like a split in the Dem party over the Vietnam war could have doomed him.

"I think that it's very safe to say that if Kennedy hadn't been assassinated he would have won re-election."

I would agree with that.

"Yes, Nixon won re-election. But he didn't finish his term for the same reason that many Republican Presidents don't get re-elected -- a failed Presidency."

He was taken down by a scandal...a momentous one. Ultimately that is a failed Presidency but he still won a landslide before that happened.

"And why do you say that it's simplistic and misleading to claim that Democratic incumbents do quite well because the electorate is happy with them? Look at the job growth figures? Don't you think that that's a major issue when people go to vote? Why do you think that FDR got re-elected 3 times? And why did Clinton get re-elected despite a major scandal and perhaps the worst media coverage the country had ever seen? Don't you think that it had a lot to do with peoples' economic status? Why have 7 of 8 Democratic incumbents during the 20th Century all been re-elected despite the hostility of the rich and powerful? "

Maybe misleading was a bit much. But its still simplistic. It doesn't take into account the opposing candidates. If FDR was so popular why did his percentage of the vote decrease each re-election? Why would the party that created the Great Society get killed by a law and order candidate in the next election?

I am encouraged about Democratic chances in 2008 even against an incumbent GOPer because of two factors, one that way things are and two people seems to seek a change after 8 years.
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ISUGRADIA Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-05 10:44 PM
Response to Original message
13. Interesting Conclusions, I would note though the Democratic
Party has a worse track record when it comes to the popular vote post FDR and number of terms elected to the presidency. Republicans have had a better vote and success record.

Post FDR (1948-2004)

Democrats have only won over 50% of the popular vote in 2 elections: 1964 (landslide) and 1976. In 1976 it was only 50.1% at that. Republicans have broken 50% in 6 elections, 5 of them landslides.

Democrats have won 6 of the 16 elections.
Republcans have won 10 of the 16 elections.

If we do get a Democrat elected in 2008 his or her chances in 2012 are promising from history at least.
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 04:03 AM
Response to Reply #13
16. Actually, we've only lost 9 elections since 1948
And as I noted in the OP, I think it's legitimate not to count 2004 for the two reasons I mention. I think that there are so many reasons to doubt the integrity of that election, for one thing: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph... . So that would make it 6 out of 14 -- not too terrible. And, as far as the popular vote is concerned, I never felt that it was significant that Clinton didn't win a majority of the popular vote. With a popular 3rd party candidate in the race, nobody is going to win a majority. Clinton won both of his elections by a comfortable margin.

And yes, I think that our chances in 2012 would be quite good if we win in 08. But I'd like our chances better if we face an incumbent in 08. :-)
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Awsi Dooger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 01:40 AM
Response to Original message
15. We won't be facing an incumbent in 2008
I predict George Bush won't seek a third term, and it's fantasy webland that he will leave office before his term ends. We ran against an incumbent in '04 and predictably lost. Not counting 2004 (and a 2.51 national popular vote margin) as an incumbent but including 1976 as an incumbent is selective fuzzy math along the lines of TIA. Likewise, counting Lyndon Johnson as an incumbent and pretending Nixon was never re-elected as an incumbent further nullifies any of this supposed study as legit.

I applaud the energy but why twist and turn to suit your own agenda and predetermined conclusions? That was classic TIA. I thought we appropriately evicted that type of selective analysis.

You can't evaluate Roosevelt and his four terms without factoring in WW II and the reluctance to change control in that situation.. The GOP was petrified they would never regain control and that's what prompted the 22nd amendment, which was passed only after Roosevelt was elected for the fourth time.

Also, the notion that we greatly benefit in 2008 via the GOP being in office two straight terms is utter hogwash. I've pointed out many times that's still basically neutral territory. The restlessness doesn't begin until after three terms. That's why Gore would most likely have been dumped in 2004 if he had rightfully prevailed in 2000.

Just look at the last five times when a party has faced the electorate after it has been in power exactly two straight terms: 1960, 1968, 1976, 1988 and 2000. While it's true the opposing party won 4 of 5 elections in that period, all 4 victories were among the closest and most debated/disputed elections in contemporary American history, basically coin flips. The one hold of serve was a comparative rout.

Very good chance for a wee hour cliffhanger in 2008.



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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-20-05 07:28 AM
Response to Reply #15
17. I think you're being unfair about my so-called "twists and turns"
In looking at the success of incumbents running for re-election, I'm simply taking a very slightly broader view of what determines "success". I'm defining it as winning the election PLUS getting through the term without being thrown out of office or having to resign in disgrace. In that sense, Nixon's second term certainly was a failure, and the jury is still out on Bush, even disregarding the quite valid controversy surrounding his election victory: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph... . I am certainly not claiming that Nixon didn't win his re-election bid, only that his crimes committed while in office prevented him from finishing his term. Anyhow, even if you count Nixon and Bush II as successes, the record for Republican incumbents is still far from stellar (5-4).

I don't understand why you don't think that Johnson should be considered an incumbent President when he ran in 1964. He had been in office long enough to establish to the electorate that he intended to be very aggressive about trying to finish the work that FDR started, and that Truman and Kennedy had continued. And if you don't consider him to be an incumbent, why didn't you say anything about the status of Coolidge, Truman, or Ford when they ran for office? I considered them all to be incumbents, because they were.

With regard to WW II, I seriously doubt that FDR would have lost a bid for re-election regardless of how many times he ran. Look at the job growth rate chart. The country loved him well before our entry into World War II, electing him by landslide margins three consecutive times, and the US population wasn't even in favor of us entering the war.

And I did not say that we greatly benefit in 2008 from the GOP being in office for two straight terms. What I said was that, all other things being equal, the Republicans normally have a big advantage because of their connections with the rich and powerful -- but, that when a Republican incumbent runs, that advantage is largely off-set by the poor performance of that Republican in office. That statement is supported by the relatively poor showings of Republican incumbents since 1908 (at which time the GOP made a distinct turn to the right, from which they've never returned), and by the job growth rate chart in my OP. Consequently, I believe that we will be in good shape if we get to run against a Republican incumbent in 2008 (assuming that their control of the vote counting is not as tight as many of us believe it to be).

Or, even if we don't get to run against an incumbent in 2008, I'm hoping that Bush's performance will have rubbed off on the new GOP candidate -- though that hasn't happened much at all in the past 100 years (Nixon in 1960 being the only non-incumbent GOP candidate to lose).
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