“Throw the bums out” is a popular political sentiment. But how often does it actually happen? To find out, I crunched some numbers from Roll Call‘s post-election casualty list.
The results were not encouraging.
There will be 64 new members of Congress next year, along with 12 new Senators. That’s a total turnover rate of 14.7% in the House and 12% in the Senate.
That means average tenure is a hair under 14 years (7 terms) in the House, and about 16.67 years (2.78 terms) in the Senate.
But that’s total turnover. Some members left to run for other offices, like Biden and Obama. More than half of all turnover was caused by either retirement (31) or death (8).
A bum can only be thrown out if he actively seeks re-election. That happened 20 times in the House — thrice in primaries and 17 times in general elections. Three Senators were defeated this year. Removing open seats from the equation, which have no incumbent running, we see that the bums hardly ever get thrown out.
In short: if you’re an incumbent Congressman running for re-election, your chance of success is 94.9% (370 out of 390). If you’re in the Senate, your chance of winning another term is 90.0% (27/30).
Talk about job security. Heck, Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted on 7 felony counts and still won (UPDATE: He lost after a recount. Well done, Alaska!). Rep. William Jefferson just won his second election after being caught storing $90,000 of bribe money in his freezer.
People do seem to want change. But for some reason, they rarely vote that way.