Electoral Career Patterns and Incumbency Advantage
in the U.S. House of Representatives
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIII:575-83

John Alford and John Hibbing (1981) questioned the thesis of generational replacement that explains the improved incumbency advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives. They presented evidence that improved incumbent performance was uniform across all levels of tenure between 1966 and 1978. Alford and Hibbing found an almost monotonic increase in non-southern incumbent vote percentage across all levels of tenure, increasing as tenure increased. Our purpose in this study is to update and elaborate upon the Alford and Hibbing research by examining electoral margins of House incumbents from 1980 to 1996.

Unlike Alford and Hibbing, we examine all House members’ (including southern members) vote percentages to detect whether these patterns maintain throughout the 1980s and 1990s. We update the data on incumbency advantage through the 1996 elections and compare changes in the South and the non-South. Members from both regions earn large victory margins early in their careers, but the victories of Southern members are markedly more decisive.

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