Incumbency Rates: A Correlation

I remember from long ago that Michael Moore offered up a critique of the American political system, with him criticizing the rate of retention of legislators. Thinking back to that, I was curious to see what incumbency rates were, and indeed overwhelmingly incumbents are renominated or reelected. I examined the House elections from 1918 to 2020 as these are the years easily available on the Wikipedia pages on these elections. It must be noted that these do not account for instances in which legislators were compelled to retire due to scandal, known unpopularity, or unfavorable redistricting. After viewing these pages and adding up loss of renomination and loss of reelection, I found that from 1918 to 1970, an average of 51 House incumbents lost renomination or reelection. From 1972 to present an average of 24 House incumbents have lost in an election year. Why have I made a distinction between 1918 to 1970 and 1972 to present? 1972 was the first election year the Federal Election Campaign Act was effective, the first modern law regulating campaign finance. The last law of any significance passed on this subject was the 1910 Federal Corrupt Practices Act, which was amended in 1911 and 1925. However, it was a weak law and the 1970 law replaced it.
Critics of campaign finance laws, including conservatives, libertarians, and most notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hold that not only do campaign finance laws run afoul of free speech but also serve to protect incumbents. Indeed, incumbency comes with numerous advantages on the Congressional level, including the franking privilege (sending free mail to constituents) and most of the time higher name recognition to start.

YearLost ElectionLost PrimaryTotal Losses
1918431659
1920531770
1922671380
1924291544
1926171330
192835944
1930451358
19328037117
1934412263
1936321850
1938701484
1940361046
1942462167
1944361248
1946501969
1948681482
195033538
195225934
195422628
195615621
195834539
196025529
1962211233
196445853
196641849
19689413
197013720
1972131326
197440848
197612315
197819524
198031536
1982291039
198416319
1986639
1988617
199015116
1992241640
199434438
199621122
1998617
2000729
20028715
2004718
200623225
200819322
201053457
2012271340
201413417
20168311
201830434
202014822
1918-70381351
1972-202019524
1972-200818522
2010-2024630

This data certainly provides strong correlative backing to this claim. Additionally, if we look at the aftermath of the decision Citizens United, the rate of incumbents who lost rose from an average of 22 from 1972 to 2008 to an average of 30 from 2010 to 2020. While others may offer up explanations as to why some of these years were more turbulent than others (The Great Depression, for instance), the fact stands that even with the huge outlier of 1932 removed from the pre-1972 calculations, the total average is still quite high at 48. Also, in the comparatively calmer post-1970 election years, after the often vilified Citizens United decision incumbents lost an average of 36% higher. The question thus stands to the reader, what do you think makes for better government, one in which more or less incumbents are sent packing?

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