Watch out, incumbents—the mood is turning

There's a strong anti-incumbency mood in America right now and it's driving an increase in the number of people who choose to identify with political parties other than the Democrats or Republicans — or no party at all. It's been clear for some time that American voters are fed up with politicians and politics, and this frustration has manifested itself in a number of ways that will play out this November.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, oversees a markup on Capitol Hill.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, oversees a markup on Capitol Hill.

For one, as voters grow more frustrated with government, they are more likely to leave the two parties behind. Today, more people self-identify as Independents than did even a year ago. According to an aggregation of 2014 Gallup polls, an average of 44 percent of Americans identify as "Independent," up from 42 percent in 2013. The Pew Center for Research shows Independents higher than any point since they've been collecting data, nearly 75 years ago.

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As a result of public frustration with the main political parties and politics in general, a larger number of incumbents than is typical are going to lose their re-election bids this year. As the party in power, Democrats will bear the brunt of this; however, Republicans are not immune to voters' ire. Look no farther than Kansas, where incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts finds himself behind a little-known businessman, Greg Orman, now running as an Independent. If the election were held today, Senator Roberts would lose.

In addition, several incumbent governors find themselves in tougher races than many expected. According to Real Clear Politics, 10 incumbent governors (seven of whom are Republicans) are in toss-up races — and frankly I think they are missing a couple. Some of these incumbent governors will lose.

While President Obama's presence will be felt up and down the ballot, he will be most top-of-mind when voters cast their ballots for the U.S. Senate. This is bad news for Democratic incumbents. According to a Gallup survey released this week, 32 percent of registered voters plan to send a message to the president when they cast their ballot. This measure is as high as it was in the 2006 and 2010 elections, both of which saw a significant number of upsets.

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It is almost certain that several Democratic incumbents will lose their seats — and some, such as Senators Mark Begich (AK) and Mark Pryor (AR), may have already lost. All that is left is the balloting. These losses, in addition to Republican wins in several open seats, will likely propel Republicans into the Senate majority.

This election cycle will see Independent candidates have a bigger impact in American politics than at any point since Ross Perot helped re-elect President Bill Clinton in 1996.

None of them will be as big or bold as the Perot campaign; some of these candidates won't generate much news coverage; and some of them are downright unelectable. But the fact that a growing percentage of Americans will go in and vote for someone they don't know just to send a message to the two parties should serve as a wake-up call.

The Kansas Senate race, mentioned earlier, is a prime example of how voters are willing to choose an unknown. Independent Orman has snuck up on Senator Roberts. Sure, Democrats decided to remove their candidate from the ballot and get behind Orman, but he is running as an Independent and, with little knowledge, voters have flocked to him in recent weeks. He is running a smart advertising campaign and he has momentum. Momentum is hard to stop in politics.

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For most of the last year and a half, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagen was considered the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election — but that's not the case today. While still well under 50 percent in recent polling, Hagen has lead the Republican candidate, North Carolina Speaker Thom Tillis, in every poll since Sept. 2. Part of the reason: Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh is pulling between 5 percent and 7 percent of the vote. If Senator Hagen does in fact win, it will be in large part because of the Libertarian candidate.

Finally, it's two Southern states, Louisiana and Georgia, in addition to Kansas, that most perplex Republicans today.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu appears to be toast. She's is the epitome of why people are fed up with Washington — using taxpayer money to fly herself to what are arguably personal commitments and living in a $2.5 million home in Washington while not having a residence in the state she represents. Unsurprisingly, these kinds of actions and attitudes offend voters. To be fair, Landrieu claims her parents' residence as hers… (because, you know, most 58- year-old married women still live at home).

This should be a shoe-in for the Republican nominee, Louisiana Representative Bill Cassidy, right? However, since Louisiana has a jungle primary and the Nov. 4 ballot is actually a winner-takes-all primary, Cassidy has to garner 50 percent +1 vote to win. It's going to be difficult to do that when there is another Republican, Tom Maness, on the ballot now pulling 5 percent to 6 percent of the vote. At the same time, there are several other center-right candidates pulling a cumulative few additional points. Put together, and it means that this race will surely go to a run-off. Representative Cassidy should still win in the Dec. 6 runoff, but a focused, low-turnout affair in the midst of the holidays will be a bit of a wild card.

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And, finally … Georgia. Retired Dollar General CEO Bill Purdue (R) is running against former Senator Sam Nunn's daughter, Michelle Nunn (D). In a strong Republican year, especially in Georgia, this race should be over. But Nunn is running a strong race and Purdue has allowed himself to be defined as a rich businessman who hasn't met an outsourced job he doesn't like. Here again, an unknown Libertarian candidate is pulling nearly 6 percent of the vote. And, in Georgia, if no candidate wins 50 percent +1, the race goes to a runoff on January 6. Purdue would almost certainly win a runoff, but two more months of advertising in the expensive Atlanta market will cost the parties millions.

Independent candidates are not new. But, in too many places they are pulling a greater percentage than they typically would because voters are fed up with incumbents and the two parties. Too many prognosticators see this as a Republican vs. Democrat year. But in reality it's an anti-incumbent year where Republicans will simply do better because they are not Democrats, tied to an unpopular president. Growing voter anger makes it increasingly likely Republicans will have to wait until December or even January to get their majority.

Sara Taylor Fagen is a partner at DDC Advocacy and a former Political Director for President George W. Bush. She is also a CNBC contributor. Follow her on Twitter @sarafagen2.