Incumbency advantage (politics)


Incumbency advantage (politics)

Incumbency advantage is a term used in political science to describe the advantages incumbents have over their challengers in seeking reelection. This has been particularly linked to the United States House of Representatives since 1964 by the likes of Gary Cox and Jonathan Katz.

The incumbency advantage

Candidate-centered voting is a major advantage to incumbent members of the United States Congress. Incumbents, in general, receive far more exposure on television and in newspapers than those challenging them. With greater media exposure and substantial influence over public policy, incumbents are also able to raise far greater sums of money with which to campaign. In 2002, 398 House members ran for reelection, and only 16 were defeated, while a mere three out of 26 senators running for reelection lost. The reelection rate is 88 percent for the Senate and 96 percent for the House.

Incumbency advantages involve the ability of congressmen to make themselves popular with the voters in their district. Thus they can insulate themselves from regular party voting. Regular party voting is voting your partisan identification. A congressman that makes himself personally popular does not have to worry about the ebb and flow of popularity for Democrats or Republicans as a whole. Thus they can insulate themselves from challengers.

Assessing the incumbency advantage

Most incumbents who run for re-election get reelected. Since World War II, 92% of incumbents who ran for reelection were successful. The incumbency advantage can be a bit overstated, though.
*Not much competition. – Quality challengers (not some fresh face out of law school) do not typically choose to run when there is little chance. (Example: Claire McCaskill vs Jim Talent.)
*Incumbents who are vulnerable do not have to run for reelection. Vulnerable incumbents can (and often do) retire. Thus they self-select out of reelection.

Causes of incumbency advantage

*Experience – an incumbent by definition is experienced. He or she has already won at least one election. They have an inkling on what to do to get elected.
*Franking – congressional privilege that allows congresspersons to send out mail to their constituents for free. It’s in the Constitution. Challengers don’t get to send out free mail to the district or state.
*Free Media – local media like covering congressman. Furthermore, they can go on national TV shows, they have an office in Washington that can create media releases.
*Money – congressmen bring federal spending into their local areas to benefit the district (which thus increases goodwill in the district for them). Naturally challengers can’t do this.
*Casework – when individual constituents have a problem and call their congressman. It’s an easy, non-controversial way of making voters happy. People helped (no matter what party) will be more likely to vote for him and they will tell their friends. A large proportion of their staff is dedicated to doing casework.
*Campaign finance – the ability to raise money. They have a big advantage over challengers because they are already in congress with a vote over legislation and thus interest groups will attempt to influence them (whatever their party).

ee also


*Status quo bias


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Incumbent advantage — An incumbent advantage is an advantage gained by someone already in a position, as compared to newcomers. See: *Incumbency advantage (politics), the advantage existing officeholders have in elections against challengers *Competitive moat, the… …   Wikipedia

  • Congressional stagnation in the United States — Congressional stagnation is an American political theory that attempts to explain the high rate of incumbency re election to the United States House of Representatives. In recent years this rate has been well over 90 per cent, with rarely more… …   Wikipedia

  • Incumbent — Open seat redirects here. For the tennis tournament, see Open SEAT. For the ecclesiastical office, see Incumbent (ecclesiastical). The incumbent, in politics, is the existing holder of a political office. This term is usually used in reference to …   Wikipedia

  • Toronto City Council — Type Type City Council …   Wikipedia

  • President of the United States — POTUS redirects here. For political talk radio, see P.O.T.U.S. (Sirius XM). For other uses, see President of the United States (disambiguation). For a list, see List of Presidents of the United States. President of the United States of America …   Wikipedia

  • Spain — /spayn/, n. a kingdom in SW Europe. Including the Balearic and Canary islands, 39,244,195; 194,988 sq. mi. (505,019 sq. km). Cap.: Madrid. Spanish, España. * * * Spain Introduction Spain Background: Spain s powerful world empire of the 16th and… …   Universalium

  • United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2008 — Elections in Pennsylvania Federal government Presidential election …   Wikipedia

  • education — /ej oo kay sheuhn/, n. 1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. 2. the act or process of… …   Universalium

  • Philippines — /fil euh peenz , fil euh peenz /, n. (used with a pl. v.) an archipelago of 7083 islands in the Pacific, SE of China: formerly (1898 1946) under the guardianship of the U.S.; now an independent republic. 76,103,564; 114,830 sq. mi. (297,410 sq.… …   Universalium

  • United States House of Representatives elections, 2006 - notable races — Information Summary of party changesElections to the United States House of Representatives for the 110th Congress were held on November 7, 2006. The House of Representatives has 435 seats. In the 109th Congress, Republicans held 230 seats,… …   Wikipedia