Despite an embarrassingly low approval rating, incumbent members of Congress were re-elected 90% of the time in the 2012 election. Overall approval rating before the election was below 20%. And only 10% of Americans actually believe incumbent politicians to be high ethical characters, according to a recent Gallup data. Yet 91% of Senators were re-elected and 90% of House members were re-elected in 2012.
Strong incumbent re-election numbers are typical. House members were re-elected 94% of the time in 2006 and 2008. It was even worse in 1998 when an astounding 98% won re-electionÂ—395 out of 401 members seeking to stay in power. It is not atypical for incumbents to win, but approval ratings for incumbents had dipped down to 10% just a couple of months before the November elections. Why do Congressional members always win re-election, regardless of how the voters think about them? It is clear that U.S. elections are not fought on a fair playing field and challengers are put at a distinct disadvantage.
Incumbent politicians enjoy huge advantages over their challengers. First, they have big staffs working for them both in Washington DC and in their local districts. They can travel to Washington without the usual traveling costs and they can send out campaign propaganda without those irksome postage charges. Incumbent candidates also have name recognition with the voters. But it really comes down to moneyÂ—incumbents raise a lot more of it than their challengers. It is always an uphill battle to throw some bum out of office, and the difficulty is compounded by the reality that you have to do it with less than half of the resources and none of the perks. The end result in 2012: 21 out of 23 hated senators and 351 out of 391 loathed House members won re-election.
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