The Informational Value of Incumbency

Abstract

This paper proposes an argument that explains incumbency advantage without recurring to the collective irresponsibility of legislatures. For that purpose, we exploit the informational value of incumbency: incumbency confers voters information about governing politicians not available from challengers. Because there are many reasons for high reelection rates different from incumbency status, we propose a measure of incumbency advantage that improves the use of pure reelection success. We also study the relationship between incumbency advantage and ideological and selection biases. An important implication of our analysis is that the literature linking incumbency and legislature irresponsibility most likely provides an overestimation of the latter.