• Alexander Fernandez

Incumbency Effects Modern United States

Updated: Aug 29, 2019


WASHINGTON- Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Tex., age 87 born October 11, 1930, has held a representative seat since 1991. When most retire, Johnson at 61-years-old, sought out office as a freshmen senator. He has served 14 consecutive, often unopposed, terms in Congress. Many may take this as a testament to retirees, but in office, when making decisions for those three or four generations younger, representation begins to falter. “It’s a big blow to the community. Most people who work here live in the Denmark area,” Rep. Johnson said when addressing his district’s workforce. This quote shows how he falters when it comes to representation and whom he represents. His old age becomes apparent when addressing workers in Texas as being people who live in Denmark.


Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. Born 1930

“Politicians increasingly choose those voters they will represent, rather than the other way around. The redistricting process has degenerated into a conspiracy against competitive elections, undermining the fundamental notion of representation.” CATO Institute reporter, Patrick Basham said.


Re-election year, 2018, showed 91 percent of those who held a seat in U.S. House of Representatives were re-elected to serve another congressional term. For more than 54 years, congressional seats have not changed substantially according to the United States Election Project (USEP). “The average age of Members of the 115th Congress is among the highest of any Congress in recent U.S. history,” Senior Research Librarian for Congressional Research Services (CRS), Jennifer E. Manning said.

Over 40 percent of the members who hold office are now reaching their early 70s. In previous years the re-election rates for the House portion of Congress showed an increase of 91 percent during the re-election of 2019, and 85 percent in 2010 during the re-election. In comparison, 1980 had a 55 percent re-election rate according to The Center for Responsive Politics. These numbers show how in 30 years re-election rates increase by 48 percent. The bill “Music Modernization Act” focused on changing the procedure by which millions of songs are made available for streaming on these services and limits the liability a service can incur if it adheres to the new process. The bill is an example of how with age the unchanging seats focus on proposals which have little to no relevance. Subjects like “Personal Data Protection Laws” control how organizations, businesses or the government use your online personal information may not be as relevant to a younger generation as would a proposed bill relating to student loans and debt. These data protection laws exist in European nations, Central and South America, according to i-Sight, a case management firm in Ontario but are not implemented in the States.

On February 15, 2019, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D- Maryland., used earmarks which are designated funds for a congress representative which can allocate to whomever he or she chooses to push bills approved to benefit his district and he also used the power of earmarks to remove power from individual lawmakers according to data from Roll Call. With incumbency, Hoyer used earmarks to influence lawmakers into voting for his continued re-election.


Rep. John Conyers D- MI, appointed 1965 to the U.S. Congress is one of the first African Americans to serve in Congress during the Civil Rights movement. He recently started serving his 26th consecutive term in office.

Rep. John Dingell MI-D, 88-years-old appointed in 1955 and continued to be in office for 59 years.


Rep. John Dingell MI-D. Born 1926

Congressional members who hold multiple consecutive terms in office become more powerful and can change laws to gain further voter support, and force unsupportive lawmakers out of office according to Rasmussen Reports.


On average, 80 percent of the vote goes to members who hold incumbency with little variance in over half a century according to Lumen Learning data.The predictability of committee members holding on to their seats is a reliable fact due to the influence and advantages the members possess, both in financial campaign stability and a steady voter following. U.S. voters vote against current office holders (incumbent) members due to change in policy and political outlook according to Rasmussen Reports. Surveys conducted by Rasmussen Reports, an American polling company, showed 65 percent of U.S. voters would vote against their current congressional office holder.


“86 percent of the top spenders win election cycle,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks campaign fundraising and spending said during an interview with Maggie Koerth-Baker, a reporter for FiveThirtyEight, a correspondent for ABC news.


Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mel Watt raised over $3 million alone for his campaign over the last 19 years according to Follow the Money.

The longer Watts stayed in office, the more money he raised for campaign funding. The members who serve multiple years in office remain elected due to earmarks allowing for ample spending on bills which gain votes for supporters and disregard those who do not support their elected member of Congress. These numbers indicate how veteran congressional members can maintain their seats. The unattainable amount of funding for re-election campaigning, steady voter support, shows how incumbency can have a significant effect on political ties and climates.


Johnson is part of the “Silent Generation” a generation which lived through the Second World War. The age gap between him and his constituents him un-relatable and disconnected to many of the problems which plague the current political climate.


Technologically, there is a considerable gap in the ability to compete with other nations with representatives who did not have access to many of the things that make up the modern era.“I think it’s time to get a reappointment process that frankly takes out the incumbency protection,” Former United States Senator, Carol Moseley Braun said. Historically, term limits for a member which holds an official position in remained unchanged. There are term limits for the presidents of the United States they can serve a maximum of four years and can serve only two consecutive terms. The Senate terms are every six years, and the House term limits are every two years. However, members of Congress and Senate can be re-elected for as many consecutive terms as long they are able and willing to serve. Members often serve until their death according to The House of Representatives and Senate.


By Alex Fernandez

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