Considering Congressional Candidates: Substantive Salience and Incumbency Advantage in U.S. House Elections


Political Science and International Affairs

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This study examines relationships among incumbency status, candidate considerations, and vote preference in U. S. House elections. I employ National Election Study data from 1980-2000 in order to build a model of congressional elections that incorporates existing theoretical explanations of incumbency advantage in addition to "substantive salience" factor—that is, the level of political importance individual voters attach to various types of evaluative criteria. Results show that voters consider incumbents and challengers very differently. While raw salience, in terms of recall and depth of image content, increases the likelihood of supporting candidates, individual congressional vote preference is also the product of emphasis on certain types of candidate considerations. Incumbents benefit when personality criteria, especially representative competency factors, are elevated in the judgmental calculus. On the other hand, challengers benefit when issues and party-based criteria carry more weight.

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