Will The Anti-Political Establishment Mood Be As Strong In November?


Photo by Gage Skidmore

The media is characterizing the primary results in Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania as a victory for outsiders and a loss for the establishment. That is a fair assessment, but it fails to offer any insight into what will happen in the general elections in November.

One thing forgotten is that primaries rarely represent the entire electorate. They represent the party activists. Primary voters tend to be more conservative or liberal than the general population. All three states held closed primaries, which means voters must be registered with the party to participate.  Democrats and Independents cannot vote in the Republican primary, for example.

“That could backfire,” said Isaac Wood with Sabato’s Crystal Ball because primaries only represent a snapshot of the electorate.

Rand Paul, who overcame Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell-backed Trey Grayson, could suffer in the general election. Paul ran on a small government, Tea Party-like platform. According to Public Policy Polling, 53% of voters who would have likely voted for Grayson dislike Paul. Only 23% of likely Grasyon voters think positively of him. (The Democratic Party also highlighted this poll in a press release.)

In a red state like Kentucky, that type of polling might not give Democrat Jack Conway a win in November, but it could lead to lethargic non ‘Tea Party’ Republican turn out.

During last Tuesday’s primary in Utah, Senator Bob Bennett lost his bid for reelection at a Republican Party convention. He told inquisitive Senators in my vicinity that the nominating convention did not represent the whole of Utah.

Another reason primary upsets might not be emblematic of what is to come in November is because primary voter turn out is low. In Kentucky, only 32% of registered voters voted. In Arkansas, with nearly all counties accounted for, 26% of registered voters tuned out – and those numbers are high for primaries. In Pennsylvania, election officials estimate that 22% of registered voters participated.

In Arkansas, it is unclear how a Democrat who is perceived as more liberal than Senator Blanche Lincoln would fare in the red state.

In Pennsylvania the situation is a little different. Senator Specter is a party switcher. Isaac Wood with Sabato’s Crystal Ball says party switchers “almost always loose.”  Republicans and Democrats were skeptical of Specter, which puts Sestak in a better spot for the general election in November.

The most interesting race of the night was the race to replace the late John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th district.  Democrat Mark Critz won overwhelmingly in the only district in the country to switch from blue to red in the presidential election in 2008. This race could make November more complicated as  Republicans expected large gains or it could make it more unpredictable for both parties.

Follow Leigh Ann Caldwell on Twitter.

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2 Responses to Will The Anti-Political Establishment Mood Be As Strong In November?

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1spinnikerca
    May 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    The polls were of likely GOP PRIMARY voters. That is relatively small in number next to those who only vote in the general election. While it is important to mend relationships particularly after a primary as harsh as this one, the vast majority of GOP will be voting for the GOP candidate on the ballot, and didn’t vote in the primary, at all.

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Brian Brawdy
    May 19, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    One vote at a time we can begin to cleanse the political gene pool; to rid our government of long-term, life-long politicians. The phrase “6 term Senator” should never be uttered again. Let’s make it the oxymoron is should always have been. Let’s make term limits a reality.