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The incumbent is the current holder of an
office An office is generally a building, room or other area where an organization's employees perform administrative work in order to support and realize objects and goals of the organization. The word "office" may also denote a position within an ...
or position, usually in relation to an
election An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.electoral division An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, 326 India ...
, an election without an incumbent is referred to as an open seat or open contest.


Etymology

The word "incumbent" is derived from the Latin verb ''incumbere'', literally meaning "to lean or lay upon" with the present participle stem ''incumbent-'', "leaning a variant of ''encumber,''''OED'' (1989), p. 834 while encumber is derived from the root ''cumber'', most appropriately defined: "To occupy obstructively or inconveniently; to block fill up with what hinders freedom of motion or action; to burden, load."


Incumbency advantage

In general, an incumbent has a political advantage over challengers at
election An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold public office.name recognition In politics, name recognition is the ability a voter has to identify a candidate's name due to a certain amount of previous exposure through various campaigning methods. It can be described as the awareness voters have about specific candidates res ...
due to their previous work in the office. Incumbents also have easier access to
campaign finance Campaign finance, also known as election finance or political donations, refers to the funds raised to promote candidates, political parties, or policy initiatives and referenda. Political parties, charitable organizations, and political action c ...
, as well as government resources (such as the
franking privilege Franking comprises all devices, markings, or combinations thereof ("franks") applied to mails of any class which qualifies them to be postally serviced. Types of franks include uncanceled and precanceled postage stamps (both adhesive and printed on ...
) that can be indirectly used to boost the incumbent's re-election campaign. In the United States, an election (especially for a
single-member constituency A single-member district is an electoral district represented by a single officeholder. It contrasts with a multi-member district, which is represented by multiple officeholders. Single-member districts are also sometimes called single-winner voti ...
in a
legislature A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with th ...
) in which an incumbent is not seeking re-election is often called an ''open seat''; because of the lack of incumbency advantage, these are often amongst the most hotly contested races in any election. Also, an open contest is created when the term of office is limited, as in the case of terms of the U.S. president being restricted to two four-year terms, and the incumbent is prohibited from recontesting. When newcomers look to fill an open office, voters tend to compare and contrast the candidates' qualifications, positions on political issues, and personal characteristics in a relatively straightforward way. Elections featuring an incumbent, on the other hand, are, as Guy Molyneux puts it, "fundamentally a referendum on the incumbent." Voters will first grapple with the record of the incumbent. Only if they decide to "fire" the incumbent do they begin to evaluate whether each of the challengers is an acceptable alternative. A 2017 study in the ''
British Journal of Political Science British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common culture * British English, t ...
'' argues that the incumbency advantage stems from the fact that voters evaluate the incumbent's ideology individually whereas they assume that any challenger shares his party's ideology. This means that the incumbency advantage gets more significant as political polarization increases. A 2017 study in the ''
Journal of Politics ''The Journal of Politics'' is a peer-reviewed academic journal of political science established in 1939 and published quarterly (February, May, August and November) by University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science Associat ...
'' found that incumbents have "a far larger advantage" in on-cycle elections than in off-cycle elections.


Business usage

In relation to business operations and
competition Competition arises whenever two or more parties strive for a common goal which cannot be shared: where one's gain is the other's loss (an example of which is a zero-sum game). Competition includes rivalry between entities such as organisms, ind ...
, an incumbent supplier is usually the supplier who currently supplies the needs of a customer and therefore has an advantageous position in relation to maintaining this role or agreeing a new contract in comparison with competing businesses.


Sophomore surge

Political analysts in the United States and United Kingdom have noted the existence of a
sophomore surge A sophomore surge (sometimes referred to in the United Kingdom as first-term incumbency bonus) is a term used in the political science of the United States Congress that refers to an increase in votes that congressional candidates (candidates for th ...
(not known as such in the United Kingdom) in which first term representatives see an increase in votes in their first election. This phenomenon is said to bring an advantage of up to 10% for first term representatives, which increases the incumbency advantage.


Anti-incumbency

However, there exist scenarios in which the incumbency factor itself leads to the downfall of the incumbent. Popularly known as the anti-incumbency factor, situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven himself not worthy of office during his tenure and the challengers demonstrate this to the voters. An anti-incumbency factor can also be responsible for bringing down incumbents who have been in office for many successive terms despite performance indicators, simply because the voters are convinced by the challengers of a need for change. It is also argued that the holders of extensively powerful offices are subject to immense pressure which leaves them politically impotent and unable to command enough public confidence for re-election; such is the case, for example, with the Presidency of France. Voters who experience the negative economic shock of a loss of income are less likely to vote for an incumbent candidate than those who have not experienced such a shock. Nick Panagakis, a pollster, coined what he dubbed the ''incumbent rule'' in 1989—that any voter who claims to be undecided towards the end of the election will probably end up voting for a challenger. In France, the phenomenon is known by the catchphrase ''"Sortez les sortants"'' (get out the outgoing epresentatives) which was the slogan of the
Poujadist Pierre Poujade (; 1 December 1920 – 27 August 2003) was a French populist politician after whom the Poujadist movement was named. Biography Pierre Poujade was born in Saint-Céré (Le Lot), France, and studied at Collège Saint-Eugène d'Auri ...
movement in the
1956 French legislative election French legislative elections to elect the third National Assembly of the Fourth Republic took place on 2 January 1956 using party-list proportional representation. The elections had been scheduled for June 1956; however, they were brought forward ...
.


See also

*
Sophomore surge A sophomore surge (sometimes referred to in the United Kingdom as first-term incumbency bonus) is a term used in the political science of the United States Congress that refers to an increase in votes that congressional candidates (candidates for th ...
*
Lists of office-holders These are lists of incumbents (individuals holding offices or positions), including heads of states or of subnational entities. A historical discipline, archontology, focuses on the study of past and current office holders. Incumbents may also b ...
*
List of current heads of state and government This is a list of current heads of state and heads of government. In some cases, mainly in presidential systems, there is only one leader being both head of state and head of government. In other cases, mainly in semi-presidential and parliamenta ...
*
Outgoing politician In politics, a lame duck or outgoing politician is an elected official whose successor has already been elected or will be soon. The official is often seen as having less influence with other politicians due to the limited time left in office. Conv ...
**
List of presidents who did not win reelection This is a list of incumbent presidents in any country who ran for another term in office but were not reelected. List References {{Reflist Lists of national presidents Presidents ...
*
Virtual incumbentA virtual incumbent or quasi-incumbent is a candidate in an election who campaigns ''as though'' they currently hold the office being contested, though the actual incumbent is not running for re-election. Traditionally, the virtual incumbent is the n ...


References


Sources

* ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive res ...
''. 2nd ed. 1989. Print.


Further reading

{{Wiktionary * De Magalhaes, L. (2015)
Incumbency effects in a comparative perspective: Evidence from Brazilian mayoral elections
''Political Analysis'', ''23''(1), 113–126. Political terminology