May 19, 2010
Emory Expert Analyzes Primary Election Results
Tuesday's primary results from both Republicans and Democrats saw longtime incumbents shut down and newcomers take the stage, but don't expect a major wave of upheaval across the nation during the remaining primaries, says Emory University polical scientist Alan Abramowitz, author of the recently released "The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization and American Democracy" (Yale University Press, 2010).
"One thing these results don't mean is that there is a massive anti-incumbent vote fueled by voter anger," says Abramowitz. "So far this year only one House incumbent and two Senate incumbents have been defeated in primaries and only a handful of others appear to be in serious danger. And even the incumbent defeats were probably due more to special circumstances than to a national anti-incumbent mood.
"In primary elections, local factors are generally more important than national issues. But the results of these primaries, and especially Rand Paul's win in Kentucky and Pat Toomey's easy victory in the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary, do reinforce the long-term trend toward more polarized parties."
Paul ran as a Tea Party Republican, ousting a more conventional conservative, and Toomey is the former head of the ultra-conservative Club for Growth. On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (who will face off against Paul in the U.S. Senate race), and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter all ran with support from liberal Netroots groups although all three can be expected to run as centrists in the general election, Abramowitz says. "All three races will offer voters stark choices between moderate-to-liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans," he says.
As a result of last night's primaries, Democrats are now a little better positioned to hold or take some of these seats, he says. In Pennsylvania, Sestak should be a stronger candidate than Sen. Specter would have been; in Arkansas, Halter should be a stronger candidate than Lincoln if he wins the runoff; and in Kentucky, Conway has a chance against Paul.
"But the most important result in terms of the outlook for November was in the special House election in Pennsylvania's 12th district. Mark Critz's win offers Democrats some hope of holding onto more of the Republican-leaning districts that they are defending this year," Abramowitz says. "Voters apparently were more concerned with the local candidates and issues than with national issues. That suggests that the national tide Republicans are counting on to re-take the House may not be as strong as previously thought."