Generic Media Narratives Wrong Again (June 8th Primary Results)

Just thought I would offer a quick note on last night’s primary results and their implications from the increasingly annoying anti-incumbent narrative that many media outlets are trying to sell. After last night’s results, reality seems to clearly contradict this notion, just as it did with previous primary results. In each of the major races taking place, the great majority of incumbents won their races. I’ll give most networks and news operations some credit for not trying to push this narrative as aggressively as they did last month, but that whole debacle nonetheless speaks to a frustrating propensity toward horserace coverage and black and white storylines that often tell the viewer or reader nothing. Jason Linkins has a more detailed account of the primaries in the Huffington Post here and I previously commented on primary coverage and its superficial bent here.

I’m currently working on a another piece right now, so I’m just taking a quick detour to offer a quick breakdown of last nights results. Here goes…


Last month, the big anti-incumbent and anti-establishment story was the race between Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, and Sestak did indeed defeat the incumbent. Similarly, the same story was transposed to the Arkansas race, in which incumbent Blance Lincoln was facing a close primary. In the final analysis, Ms. Lincoln won her party’s nomination in a runoff against Bill Halter. This came after Chuck Todd and co. over at MSNBC hyped this race up as set to confirm the anti-incumbent narrative. I haven’t seen any followup from MSNBC on whether or not they still believe that this is an anti-incumbent year.


Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, won his party’s nomination with 70% of the vote. The next closest choice to Reid was “none of the above” with 15%. Jim Gibbons, the state’s governor, lost the GOP nomination for governor to Brian Sandoval, but that seems less likely to have been part of an anti-incumbent trend and probably had more to do with his colourful personal life.

South Carolina

Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson, and Rep. John Spratt were all incumbents who won their races, though Bob Inglis has been forced into a runoff.

Every incumbent also won their race in Iowa, Virginia and North Dakota.

I really don’t have the energy to write about any other states or in any more detail, but I think the above results confirm the absence of any real anti-incumbent trend this election cycle. John Sides at the Monkey Cage has a more detailed analysis of the polling figures and what voters really think of incumbents and Christopher Beam has a fun feature at Slate entitled “What if Political Scientists Covered the News?” which includes a comment on the narrative being built around the current elections. Beam notes the contrast between political journalism and actual political analysis, the latter of which is sorely neglected when practising the former.

Leave a comment


  1. To keep it brief, I think a lot of the anti-incumbent vote will be seen in November. Primaries are not the most commonplace to see an incumbent turn over.

    • You might be right, but of course we will have to wait until November to see if that’s the case. Nonetheless, it’s still a bit far-flung for so many news outlets to play up this anti-incumbency notion without any real evidence for it thus far. If they were smart, they would, as you said, wait and see what happens in November rather than endlessly speculating and pulling predictions out of the air and making things up. Thanks for your comment:)


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