Off-Cycle and Out of Office: Election Timing and the Incumbency Advantage

64 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2016 Last revised: 27 Apr 2017

See all articles by Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: April 20, 2017


Democratic accountability relies on the ability of citizens to reward and punish politicians in elections. Electoral institutions, such as the timing of elections, may play a powerful role in this process. In this paper, I assess how on-cycle (concurrent) and off-cycle elections affect one facet of accountability --- the incumbency advantage --- using data on nearly 10,000 mayoral elections in cities over the past 60 years. Using a regression discontinuity design, I find that incumbency carries a substantial advantage for individual candidates. Moreover, I find that on-cycle elections provide incumbents with a far larger advantage than off-cycle elections do. These results show that election timing has important implications for electoral politics, and demonstrate one possible mechanism for the prevalence of the incumbency advantage.

Keywords: election timing, accountability, off-cycle, incumbency advantage, local politics, mayors, regression discontinuity

Suggested Citation

de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin, Off-Cycle and Out of Office: Election Timing and the Incumbency Advantage (April 20, 2017). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2016-31, Available at SSRN: or

Justin De Benedictis-Kessner (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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