Incumbents vs. New Candidates in Congressional Elections

Published 29 May 2017

Winning an election is a very methodical process. It can’t be won by sheer luck. The campaign should be planned carefully and systematically executed. If elections are won through deliberations, then the results shouldn’t be predictable as we are experiencing it now. Elections are won by the candidate’s degree of popularity, a large budget for campaign, and good political relations. These elements are the advantages incumbent politicians have over incoming politicians.

To win the control of the Congress almost equals the importance of winning the control for the Whitehouse. Currently, the balance of power of the opposing political parties is quite close. This is very important because unlike the Parliament system, in the U.S the Congress has separate powers with that of the president. All laws are supposed to be passed first in the Congress.

To win control of the Congress means more numbers in politicians having the same agendas, this in turn grant political parties more power over the politics of the government. Although, members of the congress are free to decide whether they are in favor or not in a certain law, they are likely to favor the decision of fellow politicians of the same party. As the cliché says, birds of the same feather flock together. Opposing political parties are existing because they can’t agree on certain issues therefore there are disputes, and these disputes are won by votes. If there are more party members that won the election and is able to vote in disputes within the Congress, then it is logical that it favors the political party with the most number of politicians. After all, there is considerable strength in numbers.

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It is very logical that voters favor candidates that they’ve known longer as opposed to the new faces they’ve just seen during the campaign period. The time voters learn about a candidate is connected to how much they’ve learned from the candidate (Abramowitz 1975). Voters can relate more to incumbents because they can simply review the incumbents’ performance during their past term/s. It will also favor the incumbent more if he had a decent performance during his or her past term/s. It is not uncommon that in politics a politician’s blunder is easily covered-up. I’m not stereotyping all politicians, just stating their obvious advantage. Voters are also unlikely to gamble in having put to the hands of a new politician the mercy of their area, especially if the incumbent has done a decent work regarding his political position.

Incumbents also have the advantage of the support of their respective political parties. It may come as financial and the predetermined support of their respective party’s loyalists. Being part of a political party means wider campaigning capabilities and endorsements of other politicians running for the highest seats in the government. Of course, the non-incumbents also belong to a political party and also gain the same benefits. But they are burdened the task of impressing voters with their credentials and campaign speeches that is only to be exposed to the public during the campaign period. The non-incumbents are burdened the challenge of having a short period for preparations and being typically unknown to the general public. Incumbents practically have their whole past term/s as their campaign period. With the convenience of being uncontested, they also have their names along with the issues and projects concerning their area thus giving the voters more recall of their names.

An election study was done in an election in Missouri in 1994. The survey began three days before the actual elections…the timing of the study overlaps with the most intense part of the congressional campaign…The eight incumbent members up for reelection in the state of Missouri in 1994 faced a range of challengers, from several very weak…to a few relatively well financed, serious opponents. Although eight of the Missouri incumbents won decisively, the range of talent they faced allows to demonstrate some of the over-time differences in campaigning between moderately intense and barely contested races. (Elms. Sniderman)

Although the date of this study maybe questioned, what it had shown us are trends of decision making within the voting public. A challenging candidate may gain the necessary requirements of a voter, but still a certain amount of time is required for the voter to influence another voter to vote for a challenger.

Congressional elections are anticipated as how a new candidate would match up with an incumbent politician, much like between a challenger and a defending champion in boxing. In boxing matches, most bets are placed to the defending champion because they proven that they can win their matches and are likely to win again. This has been a common trend in the past elections. This trend has been cutting the number of credible candidates because it has been difficult for them to beat incumbents in elections. New candidates must surpass the efforts of the incumbents. Incumbents are there from the very starts, and so challengers must find ways to deal with that fact. They should gain popularity way before they even proclaim their plans of candidacy, this is to somehow be at par with the time span incumbents do their campaigning which is during their term/s. If ever the challenger wins the election, this cycle will repeats itself in the next election as new challengers for the coveted seat emerge.

Works Cited

  • Abramowitz A. The 2004 Congressional Elections. The American Political Science Association.
  • Abramowitz A. Name Familiarity, Reputation, and the Incumbency Effect in Congressional Elections. Western Political Quarterly, 1975
  • Aldrich J. H. Congresional elections. International Information programs.
  • Barone, Michael, and Ujifusa G. The Almanac of American Politics 1996. Washington, DC: National Journal 1995
  • Elms and Sniderman P. M. Informational Rhythms of Incombent-Dominated Congressional Elections.
  • Jacobson G. C. The Politics of Congressional Elections. USA: Longman, 2001
  • Jacobson G. C. and Kernel S. Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections. USA: Yale UP, 1981
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