Explanations for the incumbency advantage in American elections have typically pointed to the institutional advantages that incumbents enjoy over challengers but overlook the role of individual traits that reinforce this bias. The institutional advantages enjoyed by incumbents give voters more certainty about who incumbents are and what they might do when (and if) they assume office. We argue that these institutional advantages make incumbents particularly attractive to risk-averse individuals, who shy away from uncertainty and embrace choices that provide more certainty. Using data from 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we show that citizens who are more risk averse are more likely to support incumbent candidates, while citizens who are more risk accepting are more likely to vote for challengers. The foundations of the incumbency advantage, we find, lie not only in the institutional perks of office but also in the individual minds of voters.
Political Behavior – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 22, 2013
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