Anti-incumbency bias and how it unfairly favors Republicans
Voters are more likely to perceive Democrats as the Establishment. So, when the system stops functioning, Democrats are easily scapegoated.
It is no secret that the Fourth Estate is pretty much owned by Democrats, with every major news source (with the exception of Fox News of course) leaning towards Democrats.
If you are a Democrat, this might come across as confusing. How do Republicans hold their ground in election battles when the instruments of information dissemination is so overwhelmingly pro-Democrats?
One natural retort is: Republicans all watch Fox News. That would be a correct assertion. A majority of Republicans do identify Fox News as their primary news source. But the same Pews Research survey also shows that more than 30% of Republicans reject Fox News and consider a left-leaning news source to be their main source of news. Shouldn’t this 30% be converted to Democrats, slowly and gradually? Why do Democrats have to face such an uphill battle in the 2016 election? And the 2024 election that is to come?
Since Republicans are able to overcome the disadvantage of the adversity of the Fourth Estate, they must have a great platform, great policies, and are very good at messaging, right?
Here’s an average policy-related tweet from Biden (I try not to cherry pick).
Since Trump……has been banned from Twitter, we can’t directly examine his tweets. Thankfully, there is an archive of his tweets. Here is one tweet he made about a particular policy.
Today, my Administration provided HISTORIC levels of funding to improve school safety through STOP School Violence grants – a top priority for @sandyhook. I am committed to keeping our children SAFE in their schools! —Trump, 2018
So ummm, what exactly does the STOP School Violence grant do? Does it fund the construction of school fences? Does it fund local police department? Trump’s policy related messaging is consistently more vague and lacking in detail than his Democratic counterpart. And I think it’s not controversial for me to claim that the Republican party’s platform for 2020 is significantly more vague than the Democratic platform.
So, in conclusion, Republicans are disadvantaged by most common news sources. They don’t have clearer policies than Democrats. They don’t have logically well-explained messaging around those policies. Most of the typical Trump tweets are critical rants against some part of the political system.
I am going to repeal and replace ObamaCare. We will have MUCH less expensive and MUCH better healthcare. With Hillary, costs will triple! —Trump, 2016
Somehow, Republicans are still winning elections. How? Part of it is the rise in populism. But there is another subtler reason, which is what I try to explain in this post. I call the reason long term anti-incumbency bias.
The long term anti-incumbency bias is very similar to the regular anti-incumbency bias.
The incumbent party may control the First Estate, the Second Estate, the Third Estate, and the Fourth Estate, giving them complete reign over what bills to pass, what judges to appoint, and what kind of messaging the people see from news sources.
Still the incumbents may easily lose, if one precondition holds: the country is not doing well.
If the country is not doing well, no matter if it’s due to environmental disasters, hostile foreign nations, or aliens invading Earth, everyone automatically blames the incumbent. All the opposing party needs to do is to attack the incumbents by making vague claims like “the system is broken,” “we will fix the system,” “we will introduce reforms.”
Long term anti-incumbency bias
Now, I’m not claiming that being a Democrat is hard because the Democrats has held power too long.
I’m claiming that Liberalism has held power for a long time in the US.
The core philosophy underlying the Republican establishment is not money, not capitalism, not interventionist diplomacy, but traditionalist conservatism—religion, family values, and the constitution. The traditionalist Republicans are the guardians of the legacy of the white Christian culture and way of life. This is the same philosophy that fueled the efforts to send missionary around the world to colonize and convert other cultures. It is the same philosophy that fueled the efforts to convert young indigenous children by coercing them into “boarding school” programs.
Liberalism, as represented by the Democratic establishment, stands in objection to traditionalist conservatism’s attempt to convert and monopolize cultures. The Principle of Liberalism can be stated along the lines of “everyone should be free to do whatever they desire as long as it doesn’t harm others or the society to any significant degree.”
The reason I say that we live in a liberal order is because you don’t see people break into your house and ask you to convert to Christianity by holding you to gun point. You are not condemned by angry Christian mobs if you decide to divorce your partner. You don’t see minority cultures and religious groups harassed for the gods or values that they believe in. You don’t have school systems that indoctrinate you in the ways of Christianity, or “the American values,” whatever that means. These are all realities of the past. I mean, there are still religious schools, but their attendance is optional and they are not publicly funded. There are still various imperfections in the liberal order we live in, but it’s not like the crazy 1800s when African Americans were enslaved, Chinese thrown into jail cells, and Indigenous people massacred.
I am also not saying that the white Christian culture ceased to exist. It is still the dominant culture, but the traditionalists have by and large conceded to liberalism and ceased to coerce other cultures into conversion, or subordination. There are exceptions of course (eg: LGBTQ+), but liberals’ strategy of “if it’s not your business, don’t mind it” has generally worked.
While the principle of liberalism is simple, its implementation has incurred a slew of side effects, which are positive/negative depending if you lean left/right. These include individualism, materialism, globalization, hippie culture, decreased sense of unity, less patriotism, increased laziness?, declining faith in God(s), erosion of family values, contempt of the constitution and the traditional American way of life, and e.t.c.
This gives Republicans very easy talking points.
“The crime rate is rising in New York”
— “Oh, that’s the dems’ fault. They eroded our traditional family values.”
“The economy is not doing well”
— “The dems’ globalization took all the jobs away.”
“We are losing the war in Syria”
— “Liberalism made us less patriotic. It’s the dems’ fault.”
“There are a lot of racial injustice”
— “We’ve lost faith in God.”
“A hurricane just wrecked havoc in Florida”
— “It’s the hippies!”
Thanks to the anti-incumbency bias, Republican’s claims don’t even need to be true. They just need to keep attacking the liberal order, liberal system, and liberal policies of this country. They don’t need to provide details for alternative policies or an alternative system. As long as the country is doing worse than before, Republicans can benefit from the anti-incumbency bias.
And the country is doing hella bad, according to Americans at least. Some 79% think the economy is at a poor state. Some 85% think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
So who is to blame? The incumbent party and the incumbent political philosophy of course……