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No evidence of incumbency disadvantage?

Several years ago I learned that the incumbency advantage in India was negative! There, the politicians are so unpopular that when they run for reelection they’re actually at a disadvantage, on average, compared to fresh candidates.

At least, that’s what I heard.

But Andy Hall and Anthony Fowler just wrote a paper claiming that, no, there’s no evidence for negative incumbency advantages anywhere. Hall writes,

We suspect the existing evidence is the result of journals’ preference for “surprising” results. Since positive incumbency effects have been known for a long time, you can’t publish “just another incumbency advantage” paper anymore, but finding a counterintuitive disadvantage seems more exciting.

And here’s how their paper begins:

Scholars have long studied incumbency advantages in the United States and other advanced democracies, but a recent spate of empirical studies claims to have identified incumbency disadvantages in other, sometimes less developed, democracies including Brazil, Colombia, India, Japan, Mexico, and Romania. . . . we reassess the existing evidence and conclude that there is little compelling evidence of incumbency disadvantage in any context so far studied. Some of the incumbency disadvantage results in the literature arise from unusual specifications and are not statistically robust. Others identify interesting phenomena that are conceptually distinct from what most scholars would think of as incumbency advantage/disadvantage. For example, some incumbency disadvantage results come from settings where incumbents are not allowed to run for reelection. . . .

Interesting. I’ve not looked at their paper in detail but one thing I noticed is that a lot of these cited papers seem to have been estimating the incumbent party advantage, which doesn’t seem to me to be the same as the incumbency advantage as it’s usually understood. This discontinuity thing seems like a classic example of looking for the keys under the lamppost. I discussed the problems with that approach several years ago in this 2005 post, which I never bothered to write up as a formal article. Given that these estimates are still floating around, I kinda wish I had.

One Comment

  1. jrkrideau says:

    Totally off the top of my head since I have not read any of this literature, is there a difference between Westminster style governments and Presidential style governments?

    As I understand it, who wins at the local level is irrelevant to who becomes US president. Whereas, in a parliamentary system, who wins a local riding is key to who becomes prime minister.

    I live in country where we do not elect the Head of State. Thank god

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