Involuntary exits and the incumbency advantage

Ben Highton writes:

One of my colleagues thinks he remembers an essay your wrote in response to the Cox/Katz argument about using “involuntary exits” from the House (due to death, etc.) as a means to get leverage on the incumbency advantage as distinct from strategic retirement in their gerrymandering book. Would you mind sending me a copy?

My reply:

It’s in our rejoinder to my article with Zaiying Huang, Estimating incumbency advantage and its variation, as an example of a before/after study (with discussion), JASA (2008). See page 450. Steve Ansolabehere assisted me in discussing this point.

P.S. There was a question about how this relates to David Lee’s work on estimating incumbency advantage using discontinuities in the vote. My short answer is that Lee’s work is interesting, but he’s not measuring the effect of politicians’ incumbency status. He’s measuring the effect of being in the incumbent party, which in a country without strong candidate effects (India, perhaps, according to Leigh Linden) can make sense but doesn’t correspond to what we think of as incumbency effects in the United States. Identification strategies are all well and good, but you have to look carefully at what you’re actually identifying!

6 thoughts on “Involuntary exits and the incumbency advantage

  1. Hi Professor Gelman:

    Do you know if anyone else already worked on extending your methodology to PR systems? Do you think that would be possible and useful?

    BTW, you never compared in detail your methods with the now popular regression discontinuity designs, do you?


  2. Thank you for you answer. Anyway, others are now using RDD to study personal incumbency advantage so that in principle there is not restriction to the use of this strategy to estimate individual incumbency advantage (which I agree it is an important quantity). See, for instance, here: /HK2008Contamination.pdf

    Anyway, I'm also curious to see how these technologies travel to PR systems…

  3. One part of the American system that should get more attention from political scientists is strategic retirements.

    The fundraising system in US politics has gotten so onerous that you really don't want to run for office if you know you are going to lose. Usually this works to the advantage of incumbents, it allows them to go from election to election and only have to deal with nuisance challengers. But if it looks like the incumbent has a good chance of losing, for example in a "wave" election, they will conclude its a good time to retire. Add to that that the good jobs are the preserve of the executive branch, not the legislative branch, so a legislator who has served the executive loyally can always be parachuted into some executive appointment.

    So with normal elections, you get an incumbent reelection percentage that is increased by the fundraising system chasing away potential challengers. But with "wave" elections, the incumbent reelection percentage is inflated by large numbers of retirements from incumbents who probably would have been defeated anyway. This creates a situation where most of the seats that change hands are open seats.

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