Data Driven Insights

Return to the Quorum Blog


3 Characteristics That Define Defeated House Incumbents

Emma Thomas

Emma Thomas

Dec 3, 2016

In 2016, nine Republican and three Democratic incumbents in the House of Representatives lost their re-election races either in a contested primary or general election. The 12 representatives had three traits in common as compared with their peers who won re-election.

Defeated House Incumbents Were Less Effective Members of Congress.

The 12 incumbents who were defeated introduced 24 percent fewer pieces of legislation than their re-elected colleagues and were 12 percent more likely to sponsor a bill without any cosponsors. While the 114th Congress has been more productive and more effective in enacting legislation than the 113th Congress, the incumbents who lost were 2.5 percent less likely to get a sponsored bill out of committee.

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 6.28.41 PM.png

Defeated Legislators Were Less Bipartisan Than Re-elected Representatives

Incumbent Representatives who lost their re-election races were 8 percent less likely to sponsor bills with a Member from the opposite party and had fewer cosponsors per bill overall.

Defeated House Incumbents Ran In More Competitive Districts

Finally, it likely comes to no surprise that House incumbents who were defeated during the general election, on average, ran in more competitive districts than any other Representatives. The Cook Partisan Voting Index shows the average polarity of these districts was 5.62 (absolute value of PVI). Incumbents who lost re-election races during the primaries were in far less competitive districts with an average polarity of 23.75 (absolute value of PVI), with 30 being the least competitive.

When the 115th House gavels in on January 3, 2017, new and returning members may want to look at these three characteristics to ensure they retain their seat in 2018.


Want more data-driven insights straight to your inbox? Sign up here: