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Johannes and McAdams: The Congressional incumbency effect

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Johannes and McAdams. 1981. The Congressional incumbency effect: Is it casework policy compatible, or something else?. AJPS 25: 512-542.

In Brief

In this largely empirical paper, the authors seek to demonstrate that casework does not explain the incumbency advantage (as suggested by Fiorina 1977). To make this claim, they first use district-level data showing that members of Congress (MCs) who do more casework do not fare better electorally than other MCs. Next, the authors use individual-level survey data to show that voters who recall receiving assistance from an MC are barely more likely to vote for the incumbent than they would be without the assistance--an effect to small to explain the incumbency advantage. Thus, casework does not matter. Similarly, the authors reject "home style" type arguments. MCs who travel home frequently, or have larger in-district staffs, do not fare better electorally.

Instead, the authors find that incumbents are more successful to the extent that they are ideologically similar to their district's voters.

Place in Literature

This is a direct response to Fiorina's (1977) suggestion that "the bureaucracy did it." See Fiorina's (1981) response in the same issue of this journal, followed by McAdams and Johannes's (1981) response to Fiorina. All three articles (this one, Fiorina's response, and the McAdams-Johannes response) are all in the same journal number.

Note that Fiorina's (1981) response blasts this article for several empirical errors.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Johannes, John (author)McAdams, John (author)ElectionsIncumbency AdvantageCongress (U.S.)Electoral Connection

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