Statistical research suggests that in 1998 a total of 395 Representatives and 26 Senators were reelected (U. S. Census, 2000). Since the middle of the 20th century and up to the present time, the process of re-electing incumbents has turned into one of the major political trends. The more incumbents sought to reestablish themselves in political office, the more concerned political scholars became about the causes and factors of such political advantage.
The current state of political research suggests that a whole set of factors predetermines incumbents’ continuous political success, with access to media and excessive financial resources being the most important elements of political fight. True, those trying to become the members of political office for the first time often lack sufficient political opportunities, compared to resources, which incumbents can access and use in their election campaigns.
Reelection of incumbents has already turned into the major political trend in the U. S. , and there are several reasons for that. To begin with, incumbents are frequently referred to as “the perks of Office”; in other words, all Congress members are given enough material and nonmaterial resources to hire professional staff, whose primary responsibility is to turn their Congress employers into well-represented, widely recognized and well-liked political figures (McKay 140).
For example, incumbents can send postage-free letters to their constituents, and can use these as a part of their promotional political campaigns (McKay 140). These are just some out of many benefits which Congress members are being granted by the state. Time is just another component of incumbents’ success in Congress. It should be noted, that Congress is incumbents’ full-time job, and meeting voters, resolving local issues, and participating in public events and television shows are what they are being paid for.
It appears that for many potential candidates to run for office and to try to combat an existing Congress member would mean to face the lack of media and financial resources, which for the current Congress members are available on a regular basis (McKay 147). Certainly, all these benefits would be irrelevant and unimportant if not for the image promotion and visibility of all Congress members. It is difficult to deny the fact that “sitting members of Congress are almost universally recognized in their districts” (Cusdi).
This visibility is the direct result of one’s running for office, and after having served two or more years for Congress, its members become widely recognized and accepted among their constituents; and voters are more likely to give their vote to those whom they already know for their Congressional achievements than those, who just start their political career. It should also be noted, that such political visibility is directly associated with incumbents’ ability to organize their promotional campaigns.
Having won at least one election campaign, an incumbent is more prepared to face the major political and organizational challenges than his (her) political opponents (McKay 152). Finally, these are financial resources that predetermine incumbents’ political successes. McKay writes that “for both senators and representatives, money has become a crucial resource in congressional elections. With voters acting in response to the appeal of individual candidates rather than to parties, both incumbents and challengers must ensure that the voters know who they are and what their record is” (169).
It appears that in terms of money, incumbents also have significant comparative advantage over political outsiders. Average financial resources available to incumbents are 2-3 times higher than those available to challengers, which makes it impossible for the latter to develop well-grounded media campaigns. For example, in 2002 many Republican incumbents took advantage of “fundraising visits by President Bush during the 2002 election cycle” (Smith, Roberts & Wielen 74). As a result, incumbents have much more chances to win elections for the second time, and will hardly give their position away to political outsiders.
Conclusion A whole set of advantages works to provide incumbents with an opportunity to be reelected. Time, visibility, access to media, and excessive financial resources – all these factors make incumbents less vulnerable to political changes and give them a kind of comparative advantage over political challengers. On the one hand, these advantages seem to make elections unfair, but on the other hand, political outsiders have to develop convincing argumentation that would persuade constituents to change their political commitments, and to give a political beginner a unique chance to run for office.
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