Why Do Incumbent Senators Win? Evidence from a Dynamic Selection Model
Gautam Gowrisankaran, Matthew F. Mitchell, Andrea Moro
NBER Working Paper No. 10748
Since 1914, incumbent U.S. senators running for reelection have won almost 80% of the time. We investigate why incumbents win so often. We allow for three potential explanations for the incumbency advantage: selection, tenure, and challenger quality, which are separately identified using histories of election outcomes following an open seat election. We specify a dynamic model of voter behavior that allows for these three effects, and structurally estimate the parameters of the model using U.S. Senate data. We find that tenure effects are negative or small. We also find that incumbents face weaker challengers than candidates running for open seats. If incumbents faced challengers as strong as candidates for open seats, the incumbency advantage would be cut in half.