CBS Contends Democrats Victims of 'Incumbent Backlash,' Not Anti-Big Government Mood

Though polls and recent election results illustrate public antipathy to big government deficit spending and a preference for right-leaning Republicans, Thursday’s CBS Evening News foresaw an “incumbent backlash” in which Democrats are only more vulnerable because more of them hold national office. Katie Couric asserted “a lot of incumbents are in trouble” before reporter Chip Reid declared it’s “an election year that's looking more and more perilous for incumbents” since “the mood in the country is increasingly ‘throw the bums out.’”  

CBS’s John Dickerson contended Democrats are only in more peril because they hold power, as if their policies are irrelevant: “The voting public is angry and they're in a mood to punish. 81 percent say they don't like the incumbent and that hurts the Democrats since they are in power in both the House and Senate and the White House.”

After noting how “even some long-term Democrats are in trouble” as Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is “trailing his potential Republican challengers in the polls,” Reid argued “Republican incumbents have a big problem of their own this year” since “Tea Party activists are challenging sitting Republicans.” Of course, those will take the form of Republican primary races while Democratic losses would lead to a party change.  

Only in his very last sentence did Reid note Obama has “campaigned aggressively for three Democrats -- all of them lost.” Presumably, that would be the gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the Massachusetts Senate race, where voters rejected the more liberal Democratic candidates allied with Obama’s policies.

Those results match polling data which reflects that while the public may well be in an anti-incumbent mood, they are more anti-Democratic and anti-liberal than anti-Republican or anti-conservative.

CBS’s own poll released last week discovered “56% would choose a smaller government providing fewer services over a bigger government providing more services, up from 48% last spring and the highest percentage in more than a decade.” The latest ABC News/Washington Post survey found that “among those who are registered to vote, Republican candidates hold a 58-33 percent advantage in midterm election preferences.”

From Gary Langer’s February 10 ABCNews.com summary of the poll:
The Republican Party has grown dramatically more competitive in public trust to handle the country's most pressing issues, capitalizing on seething economic discontent and doubt about President Obama's performance to challenge the Democrats in midterm election preferences.

Among registered voters in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, 48 percent say they'd support the Republican candidate in their congressional district if the midterm elections were today, 45 percent the Democrat. That's a rare level of GOP support in nearly three decades of polls....

[A]mong those who are registered to vote, Republican candidates hold a 58-33 percent advantage in midterm election preferences.  Chilling for the Democrats, too, is the position of often swing-voting independents. They prefer the Republican over the Democrat in their congressional district by 51-35 percent (again, among those who are registered to vote)....

Anti-incumbents who are registered to vote favor the Republican over the Democrat in their congressional district by 58-33 percent. Pro-incumbents favor the Democrats by a similar margin. But there are fewer of them.
The story on the Thursday, February 18 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, WITH “INCUMBENT BACKLASH” ON SCREEN: Turning to politics now and the battle for control of Congress this election year. With so much anger in the country, a lot of incumbents are in trouble. And the leader of the Democratic Party thought it was incumbent on him to hit the campaign trail today. Here's our chief White House correspondent, Chip Reid.

CHIP REID: President Obama was in full campaign mode today-

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Denver!

REID: -as he tried to light a fire under the struggling campaign of Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennett.

OBAMA: If you help him finish what we started, we're not just going to move Colorado forward. We're going to move America forward.

REID: Bennett is behind in the polls in an election year that's looking more and more perilous for incumbents. With voters angry over everything from 10 percent unemployment to Wall Street bailouts, the mood in the country is increasingly “throw the bums out.”

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: The voting public is angry and they're in a mood to punish. 81 percent say they don't like the incumbent and that hurts the Democrats since they are in power in both the House and Senate and the White House.

REID: Even some long-term Democrats are in trouble. Tomorrow the President campaigns in Nevada for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid who's trailing his potential Republican challengers in the polls. In the House, about 50 Democratic seats are considered competitive. Some Republicans predict -- or at least hope -- this year could rival 1994 when Republicans picked up 54 seats and took control of the House.

FORMER VP DICK CHENEY, AT CPAC: I think Barack Obama is a one-term President.

REID: But Republican incumbents have a big problem of their own this year. Across the country, Tea Party activists are challenging sitting Republicans, claiming they're not conservative enough. Even 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain faces a primary against Tea Partier and former Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

J.D. HAYWORTH: But I do have serious and profound disagreements with John about the choices he's made as our Senator.

REID: As for the President, it's not at all clear how much it helps for him to be out here campaigning now that his approval rating is below 50 percent. In fact, in recent months, he's campaigned aggressively for three Democrats -- all of them lost. Katie.

COURIC: Chip Reid, traveling with the President, from Denver tonight. Thanks Chip.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center