House Incumbents win reelection 85 to 98% from 1964 thru 2010.
What is it about sitting members of Congress that makes them so hard to beat? Are incumbents just better candidates (on average) or is the deck somehow stacked against challengers?
Let’s look at what has been identified by political scientists as the “incumbent advantage” in congressional elections. Incumbency itself, financial advantage, the “Perks” of Office, Visibility, Television, Campaign Organization, Time and Pork barrel spending.
There are advantages that come with being an incumbent (in addition to being, for example, the representative from the majority party in the district, or having greater access to campaign finances). Being an incumbent lends both greater name recognition and attracts votes that would not be gained by a challenger or running in an open seat race.
Many that study the science of politics are in agreement that since the mid-1960s, the advantage of incumbency has grown significantly. Estimates have indicated that it has increased to roughly 7 to 10 percentage points of the vote. This indicates that the advantage of incumbency has close to quadrupled while competition and seat changes have sharply decreased. Districts have been made safer for incumbents.
Campaign contributions are recognized as the most significant advantage enjoyed by sitting members of Congress. It is the large amounts of campaign contributions they are able to raise, especially in comparison to those who run against them, that gives them an indisputable predominance.
In the elections from 1992 to 2000, there were 1,643 contested House seats in which there was a challenged incumbent. In 905 of these (55 percent of the total), the incumbents spent 84% or more of the total spending. These elections resulted in 904 victories for the incumbents, and one loss. On average, a candidate challenging an incumbent House member was outspent by nearly $565,000 and Senate challengers were outspent by an average of $3.13 million.
Each member of Congress has an office budget allotment which provides enough money to hire a sizable staff both in Washington, D.C. and back home in their states or districts. These staffers assist members in their efforts to be effective, well-liked representatives. In addition to money for staff, members of Congress also have travel allowances for trips between Washington and their constituencies as well as for trips inside their states or districts. One of the most widely recognized "perks" of House members and Senators is the “franking privilege” allowing members of Congress to send informational letters or announcements to their constituents on a regular basis. The franking privilege, which gives lawmakers millions in tax dollars to create a favorable public image, is viewed by experts across the political spectrum as an unfair electioneering tool. In past election cycles, Congressional incumbents have spent as much on franking alone as challengers have spent on their entire campaigns.
Sitting members of Congress are almost universally recognized in their districts. Having waged at least one previous campaign, and a successful one at that, and then serving in Congress for two years (House members), makes a sitting member of Congress something of a household name among his or her constituents. Moreover, members of the U.S. House have easy and ready access to the news media and make regular appearances on television and radio programs and are frequently mentioned in newspaper articles and editorials.
In general, incumbents receive more media coverage than their opponents.
Respondents who recognize a candidate are more likely to vote for that candidate. Campaign managers evidently believe that television is the single most important communication medium, and incumbents typically are able to spend much more on television than challengers.
Every member of Congress has run at least one successful election campaign for the seat he or she holds. This means, among other things, that a sitting House member or has invaluable experience with creating and managing a campaign organization. It also means that incumbents generally have an effective volunteer organization, that have received rewards for their previous endeavors, in place and ready go when it is time to campaign.
Sitting members of Congress are on the job full-time--that is what they are paid to do. In fact, many of the things a candidate would do to win an election, such as meeting and talking with voters, attending special events, appearing on television or radio talk shows, etc., are part of the job description of a member of Congress. In contrast, a challenger to an incumbent must generally figure out how to pay for everything while running for office. Many candidates are forced to go into debt, especially in the early stages of a campaign before he or she has raised much money.
Pork barrel spending is a term in American politics used to refer to Congressmen or who use their position on Committees in the House to appropriate federal money to their own district and therefore bring increased business and investment to their home area. This process is referred to as "bringing home the pork." This can be used to build up a stronger base of support, thereby solidifying their hold on the sensibilities of their constituents, and thereby using their job, to secure their job.
Taking into account all the above advantages that a setting member of the house has makes it difficult for a challenger to win. But, the most difficult challenge of all is the American voter and the way many vote.
First and foremost is the voter turnout. There has never been a voter turnout greater than 63.1% after1960. John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy defeated then Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential election.
The percentage of voter turnout typically runs 15% to 20% more during a presidential election year. In 2008 a presidential year the turnout was 56.8%
A number of states say they are trying to make voting a little easier by allowing voters to choose all the candidates from a single party with a single vote. The process is known as straight-party or straight-ticket voting. Voters do have the choice of voting for each individual candidate. This gives party candidates a distinct advantage over non party candidates.
Challenging is what comes to mind when you group all the above. Not unsurmountable, as one person attempting to climb Mt Everest. Only people joining together with one purpose in mind will ever reach the pinnacle of success.
The thousands of patriots that marched on Washington D.C., this past November, to demonstrate their displeasure with Washington established that we as groups are learning to work together. What we hope is the leaders of the many diverse groups that attended realized they were not alone and made many friends. Communication between friends will keep us dedicated and strong. We all need encouragement, a big hug or a pat on the back when we do something good.
To overcome the obstacles in our path we will need all our strength and all of our friends.
We need to increase our numbers not by thousands but by ten’s of thousands, not to march on Washington but to march to the polling booth all across America.
We did well at the polls in 2010 as we were able to replace a few carrier politicians not only at the National level but also at the local and state level.
It does no good to replace one career politician with another that is like replacing a bad apple with one that has a worm in side of it. There is a way to find a person with integrity, a person you will want to represent your district in Congress. But first you must decide, climb the mountain alone or with the help of many others.
The base camp is established and waiting for you to join. Over 85,000 people have committed and believe in the Go – GOOOH process. We need you to join with us to increase membership to such a vigors mass of patriots that when we push out from the base camp in 2012 nothing will be able to impede our path to victory.
Joining is easy and cost nothing. Go to www.goooh.com