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Why Do Incumbent Senators Win? Evidence from a Dynamic Selection Model

  • Gautam Gowrisankaran
  • Matthew F. Mitchell
  • Andrea Moro

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10748.

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Date of creation: Sep 2004
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10748
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  1. Goffe, William L & Ferrier, Gary D & Rogers, John, 1992. "Simulated Annealing: An Initial Application in Econometrics," Computer Science in Economics & Management, Society for Computational Economics, vol. 5(2), pages 133-46, May.
  2. Daniel Diermeier & Michael Keane & Antonio Merlo, 2005. "A Political Economy Model of Congressional Careers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 347-373, March.
  3. David S. Lee, 2001. "The Electoral Advantage to Incumbency and Voters' Valuation of Politicians' Experience: A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Elections to the U.S..," NBER Working Papers 8441, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Michael P. Keane & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1995. "The career decisions of young men," Working Papers 559, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  5. Rust, John, 1987. "Optimal Replacement of GMC Bus Engines: An Empirical Model of Harold Zurcher," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(5), pages 999-1033, September.
  6. Thierry Magnac & David Thesmar, 2002. "Identifying Dynamic Discrete Decision Processes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(2), pages 801-816, March.
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