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According to OpenSecrets the relection rate dropped from 95% to 85% from 2008 to 2010. The last time the rate was as low as 85% was 1970. What's the reason for the drop in the reelection rate in 2010?

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FiveThirtyEight, a political statistics blog, has this to say on the 2010 election: (Wayback link because the images aren't working in the current version)

Rather than a realigning election, then, 2010 served as more of an aligning election: Congressional districts behaved less independently from one another, and incumbency status mattered less. Instead, they hewed tightly to national trends and the overall partisanship of each district. Most of the House incumbents whose districts had been outliers before (mainly Democrats like Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi, whose district gave just 31 percent of its vote to Mr. Obama, but also a couple of Republicans like Representative Joseph Cao of Louisiana) were forced into early retirement.

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In other words, in the 2008 election, a lot of districts which would normally have elected a Republican elected a Democrat instead, likely because of Obama on the ticket. In 2010, when those outliers reverted to their natural partisanship, the out-of-place Congressman they elected lost his or her seat despite being the incumbent.

Additionally, the increased partisanship atmosphere led to long-standing Congressmen in opposed districts (a Democrat in a generally Republican district, or vice versa) losing some of the advantage from being an incumbent, letting their district revert to it's "natural" leaning.

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  • Gene Taylor had his seat not because the 2008 election but since 1989. To the extend that he's representative as FiveThirtyEight claims he is Obama being on the ticket in 2008 isn't a good explanation. It would only explain it if the congressman got his seat the first time in 2008
    – Christian
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 16:03
  • @Christian - The stance the article is taking is that things are becoming more and more dominated by national trends and partisanship. Incumbency mattered less. So outliers like Taylor (a Democrat in a very Republican district) are getting booted out. I may have summarized an overly localized an argument out of it, though.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:46
  • I think whether or not the election of Obama has something to do with the effect matters a lot, when trying to understand why this happened in 2010.
    – Christian
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 21:38
  • @Christian - It does, but there aren't many data points to derive conclusions from. After all, presidential elections are rare things - there's been two since the iPhone kicked off the popular smartphone market (which helped the rise of social media), three since 9/11, six since Taylor was elected. There have been twice as many congressional elections, but voting in off-year ones can be different. All on top of the changing political climate. That's all a long way to say that Obama being elected definitely had an impact on the ticket that year, but the specific amount is hard to quantify.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 1:33
  • @Christian - Beyond that, I'm not sure what else I can add. Can you clarify what more you're looking for?
    – Bobson
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 1:37

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