Given all the hype in 1990 about an “anti-incumbent” mood that was supposed to have swept the electorate, it is not too surprising that immediately after the congressional elections of that year most pundits claimed to see clear evidence of this mood in the results. But it is surprising that now, as we approach the next election day, more relaxed and objective analysis has not corrected this erroneous view of what actually transpired in 1990. Thus, before this misconception becomes an indelible part of conventional wisdom, and before the events of 1992, which may include something closer to an authentic anti-incumbent mood, are compared to a mistaken view of the events of 1990, we would like to offer an alternative and, we would argue, more accurate interpretation of the 1990 congressional elections.
November 6, 1990 was to have been the day the fortifications of entrenched incumbents—relentless constituency service, massive warchests, and intimidation of prospective quality challengers—were overwhelmed by the poorly-armed but righteously indignant masses. These masses were incited by brave challengers who concocted clever taunts about the insular and haughty denizens of Washington castle life. These hated insiders, it was said, were surrounded by doting courtiers, undeserved privileges, and unbelievable treasures, and the outsiders were finally going to have their revenge.