Friday, December 19, 2008

The power of incumbency? 

A look back at Senate appointments made over the past 50 years shows a decidedly mixed electoral record. Of the 51 Senators who sought a full term in their own right, just 23 (45 percent) won their races. (Twenty one appointed Senators did not seek election to their appointed post.)
Chris Cilizza (h/t: Ed). Of those that ran for their spot there's a 76.6% chance of re-election. But is that really that remarkable? Collier and Munger [1994] show that the longer a representative is in office the greater their re-election probabilities. With less time, and holding a statewide office that draws well-known and well-financed challengers, it probably doesn't make much difference that someone running for that office has had the position before by appointment or by prior election. States, unlike House districts, don't get gerrymandered. And because the senator only faces one challenger in six years as opposed to three, s/he's more likely to survive past six years than his or her House counterpart.

So one wonders instead why it is that so many appointed Senators do not seek election? Some of it is the placeholder hypothesis -- you put someone in the spot that is not going to run because someone else wants to run for it in two years. But how many Beau Bidens are there? I don't think we can expect that there will be too many of them. If incumbency has advantages, such as free press or the franking privilege, why wouldn't more appointed senators choose to run and win? Are appointees typically weaker political figures with little experience? In that case, wouldn't time in office for Caroline Kennedy be invaluable to prepare her for runs in '10 and '12? Wouldn't she more prefer to be appointed than, say, Andrew Cuomo?

Labels: ,