15.CongElections

# 15.CongElections - Congressional Elections 1 Why Seats look...

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Congressional Elections 1 Why Seats look safe to us and not them? Section based on (Erikson 1976), “ Is there such a thing as a safe seat? When we interview members they say they are scared, running hard, never take victory for granted, etc.—and we laugh. But, one election isn’t a career: To have a career, and the inﬂuence that goes with it, takes perhaps 10 re- elections in a row Recall the extraordinary price of winning a seat, two years of misery, lost income, hat in hand, etc.—Why would any rational person ever consider doing that for a single two year term? It isn’t worth it; not even close. (consider going to graduate school for two years to qualify you to do some- thing for two years only—and then have to start all over with something else; it’s crazy) So, what then is the probability of ten successful reelections? Presume 92% incumbent success rate (looks good?): p(1)=.92 What then is the probability of winning two in a row? Two p(2)=.92*.92=.85 Three p(3)=.92*.92*.92=.78 . .. Ten p(10)=.43! not so good See Figure 1 1

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Figure 1: Probability of k successful re-elections where p = .92 for each but even worse: 1. party surges—uncontrollable (e.g. 1994; 2006, 2008, 2010) 2. Redistricting—also uncontrollable 3. constituency and Washington careers (Fenno); seniority and the decay- ing electoral base and then ask the question “How did they get there in the ﬁrst place?”— most beat an incumbent in either a primary or general election; they know ﬁrsthand that it can be done? e.g., David Price (who represents this district in Congress): (1) had a rela- tively secure seat and career, (2) beaten in 1994 in the “Republican Revolu- tion,” (3) then beat another incumbent to get his seat back in 1996. Does he know that an incumbent can be beaten? Result: they truly do run scared, because they have good reason to . 2
And that’s circular: because they are insecure, they work the district hard, very hard, and don’t let up—and that makes them more secure. 2 Election Outcomes I: Incumbency Eﬀects Now, not candidate and campaign, but elections in aggregate Structure of lectures will be alternative, but not conﬂicting, theories of what accounts for congressional elections. Since many of the relevant facts can be known in advance, it is reasonable to make them predict a real election in the future. Focus on House, because larger numbers (435) make outcomes very system- atic, unlike Senate where only 33 in any given year leaves room for much idiosyncrasy—and presidency, which is almost all idiosyncrasy That suggests that we must have a decent handle on what explains congres- sional elections. What then is it? Before more general considerations, we need to come to terms with a speciﬁc factor of overwhelming importance: Most incumbents who seek reelection succeed . 3 Why Incumbency Matters

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15.CongElections - Congressional Elections 1 Why Seats look...

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