The Electoral Advantage to Incumbency and Voters' Valuation of Politicians' Experience: A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Elections to the U.S..

45 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2001 Last revised: 23 Oct 2010

See all articles by David Lee

David Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: August 2001

Abstract

Using data on elections to the United States House of Representatives (1946-1998), this paper exploits a quasi-experiment generated by the electoral system in order to determine if political incumbency provides an electoral advantage - an implicit first-order prediction of principal-agent theories of politician and voter behavior. Candidates who just barely won an election (barely became the incumbent) are likely to be ex ante comparable in all other ways to candidates who barely lost, and so their differential electoral outcomes in the next election should represent a true incumbency advantage. The regression discontinuity analysis provides striking evidence that incumbency has a significant causal effect of raising the probability of subsequent electoral success - by about 0.40 to 0.45. Simulations - using estimates from a structural model of individual voting behavior - imply that about two-thirds of the apparent electoral success of incumbents can be attributed to voters' valuation of politicians' experience. The quasi-experimental analysis also suggest that heuristic 'fixed effects' and 'instrumental variable' modeling approaches would have led to misleading inferences in this context.

Suggested Citation

Lee, David S., The Electoral Advantage to Incumbency and Voters' Valuation of Politicians' Experience: A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Elections to the U.S.. (August 2001). NBER Working Paper No. w8441, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=281071

David S. Lee (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-642-4628 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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