Have you ever noticed that the same politicians are on the ballot year after year? If congress gets such low approval ratings, why do the overwhelming majority of sitting representatives keep getting reelected The answer often comes down to the advantages of incumbency, which are numerous, however there are also many disadvantages that come from being a know entity.
Advantages of Incumbency
1. Well known
Holding an elected office, whether it’s a Senator or local PTA President, bestows upon the owner a certain amount of prominence among their constituents. When it comes time to vote, name recognition is one of the primary benefits of incumbency, especially in more obscure races. This association is often enough to overcome challenges from more obscure rivals.
2. Institutional Support
By running from within the system, officials can use many of the advantages that come with their office. Interest groups and other supporters are much more likely to get behind someone with a proven track record of responding to their needs than an unknown challenger. Also, there are many tools and resources available to office holders through the system of support behind the organization, like voter databases as well as contact information, that can be used to their advantage.
3. Fund Raising
Connections with powerful constituencies and the power to influence decisions on their behalf often allows incumbents to raise far more money than those who are working from outside the system. Historical precedent and data confirms that elected officials are often able to out raise and spend their opponents in races that require fund raising.
Disadvantages of Incumbency
1. Proven Track Record
Many upstarts find their opening to elected office by running against either the personal or official track record of their opponent. While this goes both ways, any controversial decision an office holder makes is potential ammunition in the hands of their challenger.
2. Voter Fatigue
When things aren’t going well, theres a natural inclination to blame those at the top, whether they deserve it or not. Incumbent office holders often face electorates that are either angry about the state of things beyond the official’s control or apathetic about their leadership.
When you are responsible for making decisions, the outcome may not be palatable to some of the stakeholders. Come election time, there are likely to remember. When these constituencies are wealthy corporations or powerful individuals, it can make it that much harder to hold onto office when they are actively working against you.