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Opinions & Editorials Discuss The diminished importance of incumbency at the General Forum; Senior Columnist Alan I. Abramowitz, of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, in that publication's latest newsletter, notes the greatly diminished advantage ...

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Old 07-13-2012, 04:05 PM
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Default The diminished importance of incumbency

Senior Columnist Alan I. Abramowitz, of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, in that publication's latest newsletter, notes the greatly diminished advantage of incumbency nowadays, in presidential elections:

"The Polarization Effect

"The unexpected closeness of all four presidential elections since 1996 suggests that growing partisan polarization is resulting in a decreased advantage for candidates favored by election fundamentals, including first-term incumbents. This change is the product of a close division between party supporters within the electorate and a decrease in the willingness of voters to cross party lines to vote for any candidate from the opposing party, including an incumbent. As a result, election outcomes tend to reflect the underlying division between supporters of the two major parties, and right now that division is very close. In fact, the last four presidential elections have produced the closest victory margins and the smallest inter-election vote swings of any four consecutive elections in the past century.

"In order to incorporate this polarization effect in the Time for Change Model, I added a new predictor (POLARIZATION) for elections since 1996.** The estimates for the revised model are as follows:

"PV = 46.9 + (.105*NETAPP) + (.635*Q2GDP) + (5.22*TERM1INC) – (2.76*POLARIZATION).

"Adding the polarization correction to the basic model substantially improves its overall accuracy and explanatory power. All of the predictors have statistically significant effects after including the new polarization term, and the predictions for the four elections since 1996 are much more accurate. In fact, for both the 1996 and 2004 elections (which featured first-term incumbents), the revised model predicts the incumbent’s vote share within two-tenths of a percentage point.

"The estimates for the revised model indicate that in the current era of partisan polarization, the advantage enjoyed by a first-term incumbent is less than half of what it was earlier -- about 2.5 percentage points instead of 5.2 percentage points. This is not only a statistically significant difference; it is also a substantively significant difference. Specifically, it means that President Obama is likely to have a much tougher fight to win a second term.

"Two of the three predictors used in the revised model are now set. President Obama’s net approval rating in the final Gallup Poll in June was +2 percentage points (48% approval vs. 46% disapproval). And Obama’s advantage as a first-term incumbent in the current era of polarization is 2.5 percentage points. The only predictor that remains to be determined is the change in real GDP during the second quarter of 2012 -- the first estimate of that number will be released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on July 27." (Bold in original)

Sabato further notes how a weal economy could lessen President Obama's chances for re-election.

In the end, however, he surmises that "we can expect another close election this year -- probably closer than the 2008 election and possibly as close as the 2000 election."

I suppose we will know for sure, soon enough.

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