Incumbency Reconsidered: Prospects, Strategic Retirement, and Incumbent Quality in US House Elections Academic Article uri icon


  • Fundamental questions about incumbent safety have been difficult to answer because of the absence of adequate measures of incumbent prospects and incumbent quality. If incumbents retire because they are vulnerable, high reelection rates do not necessarily mean that electoral accountability is absent. Moreover, if the electoral success of incumbents reflects their high quality, high reelection rates do not necessarily indicate pathology in the system. Using explicit measures of incumbent prospects and personal quality based on district informant ratings, we find evidence of strategic retirement by incumbents in the 1998 elections, when standard prospects measures show no evidence of strategic withdrawal by incumbents. We also find an impact of incumbent quality on vote share consistent with the idea that high quality incumbents are rewarded in the electoral process. Although many are skeptical about the implications of incumbent safety in House elections, our results suggest a more optimistic reconsideration of incumbent electoral security. 2010 Southern Political Science Association.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Stone, W. J., Fulton, S. A., Maestas, C. D., & Maisel, L. S.

citation count

  • 59

complete list of authors

  • Stone, Walter J||Fulton, Sarah A||Maestas, Cherie D||Maisel, L Sandy

publication date

  • January 2010