The incumbent is the current holder of an office or position. In an election, the incumbent is the person holding or acting in the position that is up for election, regardless of whether they are seeking re-election.
There may or may not be an incumbent on the ballot: the previous holder may have died, retired, resigned; they may not seek re-election, be barred from re-election due to term limits, or a new electoral division or position may have been created, at which point the office or position is regarded as vacant or open. In the United States, an election without an incumbent on the ballot is an open seat or open contest.
The word "incumbent" is derived from the Latin verb incumbere, literally meaning "to lean or lay upon" with the present participle stem incumbent-, "leaning a variant of encumber,while encumber is derived from the root cumber, most appropriately defined: "To occupy obstructively or inconveniently; to block fill up with what hinders freedom of motion or action; to burden, load."
In general, an incumbent has a political advantage over challengers at elections. Except when the timing of elections is determined by a constitution or by legislation, the incumbent in some countries may have the right to determine the date of an election.
For most political offices, the incumbent often has more name recognition due to their previous work in the office. Incumbents also have easier access to campaign finance, as well as government resources (such as the franking privilege) that can be indirectly used to boost the incumbent's re-election campaign.
In the United States, an election (especially for a single-member constituency in a legislature) in which an incumbent is not seeking re-election is often called an open seat; because of the lack of incumbency advantage, these are often amongst the most hotly contested races in any election.Also, an open contest is created when the term of office is limited, as in the case of terms of the U.S. president being restricted to two four-year terms, and the incumbent is prohibited from recontesting. Although the expected advantage of incumbency has gone from about two percentage points in the 1950s, to ten percentage points in the 1980s and 1990s, and then back to about two percentage points in the 2010s and 2020s, the probability that an incumbent will lose his or her seat has remained approximately the same over the entire period.
When newcomers look to fill an open office, voters tend to compare and contrast the candidates' qualifications, positions on political issues, and personal characteristics in a relatively straightforward way. Elections featuring an incumbent, on the other hand, are, as Guy Molyneux puts it, "fundamentally a referendum on the incumbent."Voters will first grapple with the record of the incumbent. Only if they decide to "fire" the incumbent do they begin to evaluate whether each of the challengers is an acceptable alternative.
A 2017 study in the British Journal of Political Science argues that the incumbency advantage stems from the fact that voters evaluate the incumbent's ideology individually whereas they assume that any challenger shares his party's ideology.This means that the incumbency advantage gets more significant as political polarization increases. A 2017 study in the Journal of Politics found that incumbents have "a far larger advantage" in on-cycle elections than in off-cycle elections.
In relation to business operations and competition, an incumbent supplier is usually the supplier who currently supplies the needs of a customer and therefore has an advantageous position in relation to maintaining this role or agreeing a new contract in comparison with competing businesses.
Political analysts in the United States and United Kingdom have noted the existence of a sophomore surge (not known as such in the United Kingdom) in which first term representatives see an increase in votes in their first election. This phenomenon is said to bring an advantage of up to 10% for first term representatives, which increases the incumbency advantage. However, the extent of the surge is a biased estimate of the electoral advantage of incumbency.
However, there exist scenarios in which the incumbency factor itself leads to the downfall of the incumbent. Popularly known as the anti-incumbency factor, situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven themself not worthy of office during their tenure and the challengers demonstrate this to the voters. An anti-incumbency factor can also be responsible for bringing down incumbents who have been in office for many successive terms despite performance indicators, simply because the voters are convinced by the challengers of a need for change. It is also argued that the holders of extensively powerful offices are subject to immense pressure which leaves them politically impotent and unable to command enough public confidence for re-election; such is the case, for example, with the Presidency of France.Voters who experience the negative economic shock of a loss of income are less likely to vote for an incumbent candidate than those who have not experienced such a shock.
Nick Panagakis, a pollster, coined what he dubbed the incumbent rule in 1989—that any voter who claims to be undecided towards the end of the election will probably end up voting for a challenger.
In France, the phenomenon is known by the catchphrase Sortez les sortants ("Get out the outgoing [representatives]!"), which was the slogan of the Poujadist movement in the 1956 French legislative election.
The 2004 United States Senate elections were held on November 2, 2004, with all Class 3 Senate seats being contested. They coincided with the re-election of George W. Bush as president and the United States House elections, as well as many state and local elections. Senators who were elected in 1998, known as Senate Class 3, were seeking re-election or retiring in 2004.
The 1976 Quebec general election was held on November 15, 1976 to elect members to National Assembly of the Province of Quebec, Canada. It was one of the most significant elections in Quebec history, rivalled only by the 1960 general election, and caused major repercussions in the rest of Canada. The Parti Québécois, led by René Lévesque, defeated the incumbent Quebec Liberal Party, led by Premier Robert Bourassa.
A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making progress within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, by which representatives are chosen or referendums are decided. In modern politics, the most high-profile political campaigns are focused on general elections and candidates for head of state or head of government, often a president or prime minister.
Anti-incumbency is sentiment in favor of voting out incumbent politicians, for the specific reason of being incumbent politicians. It is sometimes referred to as a "throw the bums out" sentiment. Periods of anti-incumbent sentiment are typically characterized by wave elections. This sentiment can also lead to support for term limits.
In the political science of the United States Congress, slurge is the arithmetic mean of retirement slump and sophomore surge. The term was coined by John Alford and David R. Brady in a 1988 academic paper.
The 1994 United States Senate elections were held November 8, 1994, with the 33 seats of Class 1 contested in regular elections. Special elections were also held to fill vacancies. The Republican Party took control of the Senate from the Democrats. Like for most other midterm elections, the opposition, this time being the Republicans, held the traditional advantage. The congressional Republicans campaigned against the early presidency of Bill Clinton, including his unsuccessful health care plan. Democrats held a 56-44 majority, after having lost a seat in Texas in a 1993 special election.
The 1990 United States Senate elections were held on Tuesday, November 6, 1990, with the 33 seats of Class 2 contested in regular elections. Special elections were also held to fill vacancies. The Democratic Party increased its majority with a net gain of one seat from the Republican Party. The election cycle took place in the middle of President George H. W. Bush's term, and, as with most other midterm elections, the party not holding the presidency gained seats in Congress.
The 1972 United States Senate elections were held on November 7, with the 33 seats of Class 2 contested in regular elections. They coincided with the landslide re-election of Republican President Richard Nixon. Despite Nixon's landslide victory, Democrats increased their majority by two seats. The Democrats picked up open seats in Kentucky and South Dakota, and defeated four incumbent senators: Gordon Allott of Colorado, J. Caleb Boggs of Delaware, Jack Miller of Iowa, and Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. The Republicans picked up open seats in New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, and defeated one incumbent, William B. Spong Jr. of Virginia.
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 than 5–10 incumbents losing their House seats every election cycle. The theory has existed since the 1970s, when political commentators were beginning to notice the trend, with political science author and professor David Mayhew first writing about the "vanishing marginals" theory in 1974.
In politics, name recognition is the ability a voter has to identify a candidate's name due to a certain amount of previous exposure through various campaigning methods. It can be described as the awareness voters have about specific candidates resulting from various forms of campaign advertising. Some of the advertising methods to raise public awareness used by candidates running for various offices include: creating professional personal and ideological advertising, public service announcements, community work with target voter demographics and public appearances through mass media exposure. Though candidates can achieve high name recognition and exposure, this does not necessarily mean that the average voter has a good understanding of their ideology, positions and stances on political issues.
The New York City mayoral election of 1997 occurred on Tuesday November 4, 1997, with incumbent Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani soundly defeating Democratic Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger and several third-party candidates. This was the first time Brooklyn voted for a Republican since 1941.
The strategy of assumed incumbency is based on a recognition of the value of incumbency in a political campaign. A high correlation between election and incumbency has been demonstrated in congressional races. The success rate of incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives seeking re-election averaged 93.5 percent during the 1960s and 1970s. Statistically, the initial edge for the incumbent candidate is 2-4 percent of the vote.
The 1994 United States Senate election in Tennessee was held November 8, 1994. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Sasser ran for re-election to a fourth term but was defeated by Republican nominee Bill Frist.
The 2011 Prince Edward Island general election was held on October 3, 2011.
The 2010 congressional elections in Wisconsin were held on November 2, 2010, to determine who would represent the state of Wisconsin in the United States House of Representatives. It coincided with the state's senatorial and gubernatorial elections. Representatives were elected for two-year terms; those elected would serve in the 112th Congress from January 2011 until January 2013. Wisconsin has eight seats in the House, apportioned according to the 2000 United States census.
The 2010 congressional elections in New Mexico were held on November 2, 2010 and determined New Mexico's representation in the United States House of Representatives. Representatives are elected for two-year terms; the winners of the election served in the 111th Congress, which began on January 4, 2009 ended on January 3, 2011.
Incumbency is a researched and debated topic in political science. However, research on appointed U.S. senators and the incumbency advantage is less voluminous. In this research, the relationship between the number of months served as an appointed U.S. senator and the percentage of the vote the appointed senator receives in their initial election is studied. It is hypothesized that the longer an appointee has served before an election, the higher percentage of the vote that appointee will receive.
United States gubernatorial elections were held on November 7, 2017, in two states: Virginia and New Jersey. These elections formed part of the 2017 United States elections. The last regular gubernatorial elections for these two states were in 2013. Both incumbents were term-limited, so both seats were open. Democrats held the governorship in Virginia and picked up the governorship of New Jersey.
United States gubernatorial elections were held on November 3, 2020, in 11 states and two territories. The previous gubernatorial elections for this group of states took place in 2016, except in New Hampshire and Vermont where governors only serve two-year terms. These two states elected their current governors in 2018. Nine state governors ran for reelection and all nine won, while Democrat Steve Bullock of Montana could not run again due to term limits and Republican Gary Herbert of Utah decided to retire at the end of his term.
Kentucky state elections in 2018 were held on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, with the primary elections being held on May 22, 2018. These midterm elections occurred during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump and the governorship of Republican Matt Bevin, alongside other elections in the United States. All six of Kentucky's seats in the United States House of Representatives, nineteen of the 38 seats in the Kentucky State Senate, all 100 seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives, and one of the seven seats on the Kentucky Supreme Court were contested. Numerous county and local elections were also contested within the state.