Interpreting Congressional Elections The Curious Case of the Incumbency Effect
The increase in the "incumbency effect" has long dominated as a research focus and as a framework for interpreting congressional elections. This important new book challenges the empirical claim that incumbents are doing better and the research paradigm that accompanied the claim. It also offers an alternative interpretation of House elections since the 1960s. In a style that is provocative yet fair, learned, and transparent, Jeffrey Stonecash makes a two-pronged argument: frameworks and methodologies suffer when they stop being critically considered, and patterns of House elections over the long term actually reflect party change and realignment. A must-read for scholars and students of congressional elections.
Part I: A Conventional Wisdom and Its Importance
1. The Fortunes of Incumbents and Interpreting Political Change
2. Vanishing Marginals, a Research Agenda, and Political Responsiveness
Part II: The Data and Doubts
3. The Basics: Percentages, Averages, and Careers
4. The Presidential–House Connection Issue
5. The Gelman-King Estimation (and the Role of Open Seats)
Part III: The Role and Emergence of a Paradigm
6. The Puzzle and an Interpretative Framework: Kuhn
7. Embracing One Paradigm and Discarding Another
8. A Consensus and Normal Science
9. Embracing and Sustaining a Paradigm: Why?
Part IV: An Alternative
10. An Alternative Framework and Analysis
11. Paradigms and Understanding American Politics
Praise for Interpreting Congressional Elections
Incumbency and its powers have become an all-purpose bedrock for building explanations in American politics. Jeffrey Stonecash puts a bundle of intellectual dynamite under that bedrock, leaving only shattered remnants of the arguments built upon it. Yet Stonecash is after even bigger game, using the evolution of the alleged powers of incumbency as an example of the larger paradigms that determine scholarly questions, organize research, and pre-select evidence. A sobering look back at two generations of research that triumphed on an academic level but failed as a mirror of real politics.
Byron E. Shafer, University of Wisconsin
This provocative book challenges one of American political science’s central findings of the past half-century: the increased safety of congressional incumbents. Demonstrating that powerful normative assumptions have been built around what is essentially a data artifact, Stonecash persuasively argues that incumbency advantages are repeatedly misidentified and miscalculated by ignoring strategic retirements, partisan differences, and long-term realignment.
Seth Masket, University of Denver
This well-written, thoroughly documented, novel, and certainly provocative book addresses a problem of long standing in American electoral politics. With admirable clarity, it offers an important alternative view of political change in the U.S. House that emphasizes the goals and behavior of political parties, rather than individual politicians. This is a wonderful contribution that I look forward to seeing in print.
Walter J. Stone, University of California-Davis
Stonecash clearly and rigorously challenges conventional wisdom about how officeholders get into office and expand their vote margins. Interpreting Congressional Elections not only invites new research in an old field, but also trains students in how to carefully scrutinize an argument to see if it holds up. A must for scholars and students of U.S. elections.
Robin Kolodny, Temple University
Jeffrey Stonecash has a knack for challenging the conventional wisdom on American politics in ways few other political scientists can. With this book, he has done it again: Interpreting Congressional Elections is the most authoritative study of U.S. House elections in decades. Stonecash carefully reevaluates the evidence on the electoral fortunes of House members and sheds important new light on the nature of the incumbency advantage.
Brian Frederick, Bridgewater State University