61 Comments

"if you didn’t preface every reference to Donald Trump by calling him a fascist or some other epitaph."

I think the word you're looking for is "epithet", though it may end up being his epitaph as well.

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There is some survivorship bias in your pre 1992 data, I think. Both Johnson and Truman elected not to run again because of their unpopularity. Their potential second runs are not counted in the data, yet they almost certainly would drag the incumbency advantage down had they run.

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I love the balancing act between the left constantly acting like the entire economy is a total abysmal tire fire for all workers constantly who are all one bad government policy for total destitution...and then them defending Biden due to the strong economic figures.

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This is the biggest problem with mainstream news outlets. They pushed the party line over and above what was in any way objective from 2016-to 2020. Now, no one believes anything they say. And, believe it or not, that includes their liberal readers. Highly-educated liberals know when they are being sold a bill of goods. They just don't care when they feel it benefits them. Now that they know for a fact they were lied to during this time period (especially Covid), they distrust even their own papers. Credibility and trust are two things the government and the media really couldn't afford to lose. It would be nice to see some self-correction, but I won't hold my breath.

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Nate I love your writing, but this feels like a pretty big strawman.

Nobody claims that the incumbency advantage means “the incumbent always wins.” It just means “the incumbent performs better than a non-incumbent of the same party would.”

Now maybe that’s also no longer true (though I doubt it - just look at how much more eager candidates are to run for “open” seats vs challenging an incumbent). But simply showing the results of presidential elections doesn’t prove it.

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I'm still curious whether the neuroticism is correlated with said characteristics or if they are being encouraged by a particular worldview (ie, does dwelling on identity politics incite neuroticism, or are neurotics more likely to dwell on identity). I suspect the only way to tell would be to see if folks with those same characteristics were more neurotic throughout history or if it is a new phenomenon.

I'll tell you what though: as a young conservative growing up in the early 2000s, I don't think I heard anyone EVER mention have a sense of general anxiety. Sure you'd be scared of a coming test/work thing, someone might be a worry-wart, etc., but I didn't have vast swaths of my friends-group running around with general anxiety. Was that because it was the 2000s, or was it because we were a more conservative culture?

Anyone here who's in their late 30s but grew up more liberal than me: was "anxiety" a thing in your friend-group?

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Alternative theory: imagine that candidate vote share is a product of the partisan environment of the district and relative "candidate quality". Candidate quality includes likability, scandals or lack thereof, willingness to abandon unpopular national party positions, ability to secure money for local alfalfa farmers etc. Incumbent advantage could be mostly a product of candidate quality: the fact that the guy got elected in the first place is a positive indicator of candidate quality.

The rising partisanship we've seen over the last twenty years has meant that candidate quality matters less (e.g. I will vote Democrat unless the Democrat in my district kills someone with an axe) and since most of incumbent advantage is a secondary correlate of candidate quality, incumbent advantage has diminished.

Another implication: unpopular figures are bad not because they lose their own districts (MTG will never lose that part of Georgia for example) but because they cause occasional voters across the country to turn against your party.

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I remember Democrats screeching in 2019 about nonsense like MUH MULTIPLE OBS MUH INCOME INSEEEQUALITY!!! When wage growth was high, inflation was non-existent, and the majority of Americans approved of Trump's handling of the US economy, now the same deranged liberals try and defend Biden with 33% inflation since 2021? with high gas prices ever increasing food prices and rent? with a mortgage rate hike, making buying a new house completely unaffordable? Democrats are the biggest hypocrites on the planet; they have no actual policies on the economy. It's "D" man, good, "R" man, baad.

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Nate, wouldn't the overall negativity you write about indicate a defeat for Trump in 2024 ? Isn't he despised more than Biden ? If young people get most of their news from social media and combine that will their purported concerns about actual policy [abortion, racial justice, climate change] AND if they actually vote in larger numbers than they have in the past...won't all this negativity result in a postive outcome ? [maga defeat].

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I think the small sample size for these data pretty much limits this discussion and conclusion. Where we saw strong incumbent performance, we had very strong/popular candidates, and when we had weak POTUS candidates, we saw poorer incumbent performance.

You just can’t compare Reagan, Obama and even B Clinton to the other incumbents who ran in recent decades. Their skill and popularity (not to mention the 3d party stuff for BC elections) really destroys this theory.

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PS, good to see my eight grade social studies teacher had better images of what yellow journalism was than AI

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I think that there’s one of two simple answers: (1) voters in the world today are generally more unhappy*, and thus want change; or (2) voters in the world today are generally more happy**, and thus want change.

*blame climate change, algorithms, inequality, or anything else neither incumbents or successful challengers have done much about for 40+ years

**unhappy, but definitely with more access to more stable, secure jobs, tech, better health, ie all the benefits of progress, including unprecedented optionality, which can be maddening and can condition us to always seek change, including on Election Day

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Nate seems to only engage with vibeseccion discourse through people like Will Stancil. Even though I’m sure he’s aware people like Claudia Sahm have been writing about this for months. It’s not just Dem cheerleaders on Twitter

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Isn’t it consistent for our friend Illway Ancilstay to be a polemicist on other issues? He believes in the power of media to control opinion and wants it to push opinion in his preferred direction.

He believes it too strongly though: while media is powerful, I don’t think it can convince anyone of anything at any time in any context, the way he seems to claim.

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Footnote 3 😵 Nate you're hilarious.

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If it's any consolation, Israeli politicians still have an incumbency advantage, at least until the next election.

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