1st Edition

Congressional Challengers Candidate Quality in U.S. Elections to Congress

By Costas Panagopoulos Copyright 2022
    148 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    148 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In this book, Costas Panagopoulos examines patterns of candidate emergence in congressional elections over the past five decades—specifically, the quality of challengers who seek to unseat U.S. House incumbents, as measured by prior political experience. Panagopoulos demonstrates that fewer and fewer experienced challengers have tossed their hats into the ring since the early 1970s. Inexperienced candidates often face electoral challenges that are difficult to overcome. Looking at factors including campaign spending, district-level partisan composition, and institutional reforms such as term limits, Panagopoulos evaluates explanations and consequences for these developments over time. He points to important implications for the study of congressional elections and democracy in the United States, including reforms in recruitment and candidate selection strategies to heighten electoral competition and ultimately, to enhance democratic representation in Congress. For students and scholars of the U.S. Congress and elections, this book addresses public concern about representation as well.

    Dedication and Acknowledgments

    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    1 Dynamics of Challenger Quality: Introduction

    2 Challenger Quality—Conceptualization and Measurement

    3 Explaining Challenger Quality: Hypotheses and Methodology

    4 Money and Challenger Quality

    5 Candidate Quality and Campaign Communications Strategies

    6 Movin’ On Up: The Impact of State Legislative Term Limits on Candidate Quality in U.S. House Elections, 1972–2018

    7 States of Ambition: Aggregate Challenger Quality in the U.S. States, 1972–2018

    8 Explaining the Decline in Challenger Quality, 1972–2018

    9 Implications: Challenger Quality, Incumbency Advantage, and Democracy in America

    10 Conclusion




    Costas Panagopoulos is Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University.

    Praise for Congressional Challengers

    "Congressional Challengers is a rigorous empirical analysis of the causes and characteristics of the decline in the supply of experienced challengers in congressional elections. It is a valuable and unique discussion of the decline of competitiveness and quality challengers in congressional elections and the consequences for Congress and our democracy."

    James A. Thurber, American University

    "The study of congressional challenger quality has a long and rich history, and with good reason: challenger quality has been shown to be an important determinant of outcomes in congressional elections. Costas Panagopoulos has written an extraordinary book that makes an invaluable contribution to this rich scholarly literature. Panagopoulos traces patterns of challenger quality over time from 1972 to 2018, finding that there has been a decline in challenger quality in incumbent races (but not in open-seat races). He considers an impressive array of possible explanations for this pattern, finding that it is the increase in incumbent electoral strength in their home districts that has the dominant effect in discouraging high-quality candidates to challenge incumbents. This central finding has important normative implications for the health of our American republic. Congressional Challengers is an important, must-read book for those interested in congressional elections and, even more broadly, those interested in understanding the workings of our American democracy."

    James C. Garand, Louisiana State University

    "It is difficult to overstate the importance of challenger quality to understanding the outcomes of U.S. legislative elections. Panagopoulos has significantly expanded our knowledge of this important feature of American politics with a careful and exhaustive analysis. The finding that challenger quality has declined over time, and that this is due to decreases in the competitiveness of races rather than increases in campaign costs, constitutes a major contribution, making this book a must read for anyone interested in elections, representation, and the overall health of American democracy."

    Gregory Wawro, Columbia University

    "Costas Panagopoulos presents an important study of U.S. congressional elections. Panagopoulos shows that the quality of candidates that challenge congressional incumbents has declined since 1972. Using careful empirical analyses that incorporate different theoretical explanations, Panagopoulos demonstrates that this decline in challenger quality is explained by district competitiveness: As congressional districts more heavily favor one party or the other, high quality candidates choose not to challenge the incumbents of those districts, thus weakening a link in the chain of democratic representation. Congressional Challengers deserves the close attention of scholars of elections."

    Jay Goodliffe, Brigham Young University

    "In this book, Costas Panagopoulos documents the decline from 1972 to 2018 in the supply of high-quality congressional challengers. What makes this book special and noteworthy is that it goes beyond the standard academic explanation that high-quality challengers are strategic actors who run for congressional office when incumbents are vulnerable. Panagopoulos makes a major contribution to the academic literature by presenting results that show there is more to this story, specifically that declines in competitiveness, defined as the share of the two-party vote earned by the incumbent’s party presidential candidate, are a major factor in understanding this development. These convincing and important new findings shed light on a subject of interest to anybody who studies or cares about congressional elections in the United States."

    Peter L. Francia, East Carolina University

    "There is no question that Panagopoulos has written an exceedingly valuable text on candidate challengers in House elections. Given the importance of this subject to scholars and students of elections and Congress as well as the normative importance for studies of representation, this book has a wide potential audience. Given that electoral competition is an essential part of a democratic system, there are few questions as important as why candidates run or, in many cases, do not run."

    Nicholas Pyeatt, Penn State-Altoona