This collection of essays, published in 2006 before the elections, is a valuable peek into elections, how those elected write the rules of the elections, and the electoral results of those rules. Several studies point to the resulting high rate of incumbency reelection, which since 1945 has usually been over 90% for most state and national offices. Still, this does not mean that elections are always secure. In 1980, 55% of incumbent Senators were reelected, a notable exception to the general reelection expectations. Plus, the book was written before the 2006 primaries and elections which experienced a higher rate of incumbent defeated than in the past.
While individual incumbents have become more secure in winning reelections, political parties have diminished. The research reported in this book indicates that the public’s affiliation with any political party has been lessening since the 1960s. Yet without strong political parties, incumbents are finding it easier to win reelections in part due to decreased competition. Redistricting decisions tend to make it more difficult for challenging parties to successfully defeat incumbents. Research also shows that challengers have tended to have less previous experience, indicating that fewer experienced, and thus weaker, political challengers have emerged.
The redistricting advantage is currently particularly effective for Republicans, according to research discussed in this book. It credits Republican leaders with successful gerrymanders in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Authors in this book conclude that the attempts of one political party to gerrymander have had unintended results of not achieving the best partisan result sought by the gerrymanders. When attempts are made to maximize the number a seats a political party could win, the result often turns out instead to increase in the number of competitive seats.
Electoral competition usually decreases in each successive election following redistricting. Incumbents are most vulnerable in their new districts and become better established and less vulnerable over time. Ironically, this failed to happen in 2002, the first election after the 2000 redistricting, leading some observations that incumbents had become better skilled at devising redistricting to protect themselves.
The per cent of voters participating in U.S. House elections has been declining over past decades, although the rate of decline has been erratic. It has reached a historic low. Apparently this reduced turnout has favored incumbents.
State legislative elections find incumbent reelection rates in several states as over 80% or 90%, with the highest rates found in some elections of 99% in Pennsylvania to 98% in New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts. The increased incumbency reelection rates produces stability of membership to legislatures. In the 1930s, each session saw half of its membership as new members. In the 1980s and 1990s, legislatures kept about three quarters of their members between sessions. Not running for reelection was a leading cause of not returning, rather than being defeated.
Legislatures have become more professional over the decades, and research shows the electoral competition decreases in states with more professional legislatures. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and Wisconsin have the least competitive state legislative elections, and voter approval of their professional legislators along with the greater ability of professional legislators to serve and communicate with their constituents contributes to this reduced competition.
While campaign contributions have become a more important part of politics, researchers note that many candidates do not raise funds from local sources. Over half of all Democratic funds raised and about 40% of Republican funds nationwide are raised from contributors located in only 50 counties.
Term limits have increased competition for state legislative seats. From 1991 through 2002, 698 seats nationwide were created by term limits, and 82% of those open seats were contested by the two major parties. By comparison, there were 4,754 open seats that occurred in states without term limits, and 74% of those seats were contested between the two major parties. Despite the increased competition caused by term limits, greater political party turnover was found in the non-term limited open seats, where 19% switched parties, as opposed to the term-limited open seats were 12% switched parties.
In sum, this book discovers that elections have become less competitive. If democracy is truly a marketplace, then the market is purchasing more determinant elections and less electoral uncertainty.