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The Incumbency Advantage


In general, during elections, the incumbents, who are the current holders of a political office, contain a structural advantage over their challengers. For instance, the scheduling of the elections may be determined by the incumbent rather than a set date. The incumbents, for many political parties, are often well known as compared to the challengers as a result of their earlier work while in office (CUSDI.org, 2018). Furthermore, incumbents can easily access campaign funds and other government funds that can aid them in boosting their campaigns. Incumbency advantage, therefore, comprises some of the following aspects that keep the contemporary Congress seat holders more advantages than their challengers including the “Perks” office, time, visibility, campaign organization, money.

The “Perks” Office

Every Congress member possesses an office budget allocation which offers enough funds to employ a considerable staff both at their districts or states and in Washington. The staffers aid members in their attempts to become representatives that are effective and well-liked. (CUSDI.org, 2018) Aside from staff funds, Congress members also are given travel allowances for visits amid their constituencies and Washington and trips for trips inside their districts or states. One amid the most popular “perks” for Senators and House members comprise their capability to send informational letters that are postage-free or make regular announcements to their constituents.


Congressional sitting members are on the full-time occupation since that is where they earn their leaving. The numerous things that a candidate would perform to become victorious in an election including talking and meeting with voters, appearing on radio or television talk shows, attending special functions, and many more, comprise of the things that are in the member of Congress’s job description (CUSDI.org, 2018). On the other hand, a challenging candidate must usually figure out how to settle their bills while still running for the position. In short, the challengers are not paid to do what they do during the campaigning session as compared to the incumbents. As a result of this, numerous challenging candidates are forced to acquire loans thus pushed into debt before they can make more money for the campaigns.


Incumbent members of the Congress are almost generally acknowledged in their districts. The fact that they have already offered their services in the office during the previous campaign, and say a successful one for that matter, and then serving in Congress for six years as in the case of senators, or four years as in the case of House members, makes an incumbent member something of a household name amid her or his constituencies. Furthermore, individuals of the Senate and the House have ready and easy access to the media and make regular appearances on radio and television programs. They are also often mentioned in editorials and newspaper articles.

Campaign organization

As stated, each sitting Congress member has taken part in at least one effective election campaign for the seats that they hold. Such among other numerous factors implies that an incumbent Senator or member has enough experience with managing and creating a campaign organization. Furthermore, it shows that sitting members usually have an efficient volunteer organization set in place and ready to take on when the campaigning time starts.

An election whereby no incumbent is vying for the seat is often regarded as an open seat due to the absence of incumbency advantage. When new individuals view for a political position, the voters liken and differentiate the personal traits, political issues in a somewhat straight manner. On the other hand, when elections are featuring an incumbent, voters first grapple with the incumbent’s record. It is only until when they decide not to vote in the incumbent again that they start to analyze whether they can vote in any of the challengers. Based on the British Journal of Political Science, incumbency advantage emerges from the idea that voters analyze the ideology of the incumbent individually whereas presume that no incumbency shares the ideology of this incumbent. Therefore, this implies that incumbency advantage becomes more significant with an increase in the polarization.


The most acknowledged and perhaps the most essential advantage that the incumbent members of the Congress enjoy is the enormous amounts of campaign funds they raise in comparison to their competitors. For instance, the table below highlights the campaign funds present to various candidate groups in the Senate and the House elections in 1998.

Averagely, a challenger of a sitting House member was outspent by about $565,000, and the challengers of the incumbent senate positions were outspent by averagely $3.313 million. However, candidates for the open seats did not raise as many funds compared to the incumbents. The difference amid the candidates in certain open campaigns tends to become much less noticeable that it is in the case of siting-challenger campaigns.

The achievements of congressional incumbents have emerged as a half-funny joke in the current years. Statistics show that 95.17% the individuals who vied to be reelected within the thirteen biennial national elections for the four hundred and thirty-five House seats from 1982 to 2006 retained their seats. Furthermore, about 396 of the total 435 incumbent seat holders sought to be reelected, implying that only 39 seats were left open. Such statistics show how the idea of incumbency advantage has impacted the Congressional Elections of the United States (Cillizza, 2013). Furthermore, other statistics from the November 1998 elections show that 401 of the 435 sitting members of the House of Representatives of the United States sought reelection. Fascinating statistics show that out of the 401 members, 395 were reelected implying that only six incumbent members lost their seats to their challengers. Therefore, this means that the incumbency advantage had a success rate of 98 percent. It is only the U.S. Senators who sought reelection that, were a little unlucky since their statistics of reelected incumbents show that they had a success rate that was slightly below 90 percent.


The rate of incumbency success in the three years as sported from the website can be attributed to the incumbency advantage whereby the sitting contestants had “perks office”, time, visibility, campaign organization, and money over their competitors (Cillizza, 2013). However, the most evident contributor as seen on the website is the campaign funds whereby incumbents gathered more campaigning funds compared to their challengers.

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