Incumbency Advantage - A Full Literature Review

Essay by Churchee9324College, Undergraduate February 2007

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In the current literature review, eight sources were cited, discussing the role of incumbency in the re-election process. Historically, incumbents are rarely defeated for re-election. The research in each of the articles describes the advantages of being an incumbent. Most sources collected data from congressional elections, although some statistics were gathered from local elections. Overall, the research suggests being an incumbent does, indeed, provide a great advantage in the electoral process.

The first article, entitled House Re-elections and the Senate Defeats: The Role of the Challenger by Barbara Hinckley, examined incumbent re-election circa the late 1970s. This study found and incumbent was overwhelmingly likely to win re-election and win by larger margins than victorious non-incumbents. Certain factors of success for each incumbent included: visibility, office support, and a generally positive reputation. Other factors which bear different weights included: voters' information and incumbents' activity. According to the article, voters' information was defined as an incumbency that provides an easy voting cue in the general low-information context of the congressional voting.

Therefore, when the challenger was not familiar, the incumbent gained an advantage in the contest. Incumbents' activity categorized incumbents as bureaucratic errand runners, credit claimers for federal projects in their districts, and performers of other non-controversial services. Overall, incumbents work hard at creating and maintaining a positive reputation.

In the Senate, the following incumbent advantages were present: visibility, affect, and incumbency itself. In the 1978 election, 61 percent of voters voted for incumbents in the Senate, and 68 percent of incumbents actually won re-election in their respective states. In the House of Representatives, challengers' visibility, in terms of recognition and contact, was marked lower than the incumbents' and other non-incumbents'. Incumbency itself was only a small additional influence to the success of incumbent in the House. During the 1978 election, 79...