Friday, December 5, 2008

95% of House incumbents win in 2008

Ah, change. In the 2006 elections, the Democrats took the Congress. In 2008, they expanded their gains in the Congress and took the presidency. At the headline level, certainly, we got change in bold, 60-point type.

But let's read further into the story. It turns out that the change occured only at the margins -- in open seats, where both parties put up serious candidates, threw their weight behind them and then sweated while the voters exercised their power to choose.

In the bulk of the races, on the other hand, incumbents nearly always won as they nearly always do. In 2006, 94% of House incumbents won; in 2008, 94.8% of House incumbents won.

You might ask, how can this be? But a better question is, how could this not be? An incumbent benefits from numerous advantages, the largest of which is probably the automatic support of special interests. This overwhelming lead discourages serious candidates from running and encourages parties to commit their limited resources elsewhere. In most cases, incumbents face underfunded challengers without serious party support, many of whom are simply gadflys.

Or, incumbents go unchallenged and the election is canceled altogether. Elections were canceled in 56 House districts this year.

Change, then, is made possible by open and competitive elections -- something that term limits mandate in every district at least once every eight years.