Political Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 731–749 | Cite as

Risk Attitudes and the Incumbency Advantage

  • David L. Eckles
  • Cindy D. Kam
  • Cherie L. Maestas
  • Brian F. SchaffnerEmail author
Original Paper


Explanations for the incumbency advantage in American elections have typically pointed to the institutional advantages that incumbents enjoy over challengers but overlook the role of individual traits that reinforce this bias. The institutional advantages enjoyed by incumbents give voters more certainty about who incumbents are and what they might do when (and if) they assume office. We argue that these institutional advantages make incumbents particularly attractive to risk-averse individuals, who shy away from uncertainty and embrace choices that provide more certainty. Using data from 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we show that citizens who are more risk averse are more likely to support incumbent candidates, while citizens who are more risk accepting are more likely to vote for challengers. The foundations of the incumbency advantage, we find, lie not only in the institutional perks of office but also in the individual minds of voters.


Incumbency advantage Risk aversion Voter choice Elections Prospect theory 



The authors would like to acknowledge the organizations that supported the 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study data upon which this paper is based. The 2008 data was funded by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. The 2010 data was funded by the National Science Foundation along with contributions from our departments and colleges at the Florida State University, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Vanderbilt University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David L. Eckles
    • 1
  • Cindy D. Kam
    • 2
  • Cherie L. Maestas
    • 3
  • Brian F. Schaffner
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Risk Management and InsuranceUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Massachusetts, AmherstAmherstUSA

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