Do Incumbents Have an Advantage in Elections?
As the midterms approach, it’s worth remembering a well-known adage in U.S. politics: People in power tend to stay in power. In 2020, 95% of House members and 84% of senators up for re-election won their races.
Political scientists have debated the extent of incumbency advantage for years, but the basic fact remains true. As OpenSecrets.org puts it: “Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.”
However, an incumbent doesn’t always have a relaxing path to victory. Ballotpedia reports that in the 247 of the 410 congressional races this year where an incumbent is running for reelection, the incumbent has faced a contested primary race. That 60% figure is the highest rate in nearly a decade. Sixteen of those incumbents ended up losing.