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Old Voters, New Voters, and the Personal Vote: Using Redistricting to Measure the Incumbency Advantage

Stephen Ansolabehere, James M. Snyder, Jr. and Charles Stewart, III
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 17-34
DOI: 10.2307/2669290
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2669290
Page Count: 18
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Old Voters, New Voters, and the Personal Vote: Using Redistricting to Measure the Incumbency Advantage
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Abstract

We provide new estimates of the size of the personal vote in U.S. House elections from 1872 to 1990. We take advantage of the "natural experiment" that attends decennial redistricting: every ten years, most incumbents are given new districts that contain a combination of old and new territory. By contrasting an incombent's vote in the new part of the district with his or her vote in the old part of the district, we can estimate the magnitude of the personal vote-the vote that the incumbent receives because he or she represented the voters in the past. Our estimates confirm prior work that shows that a large fraction of the incumbency advantage owes to the personal vote, as opposed to challenger quality. Unlike past research, we are able to estimate the relationship between district partisanship and the personal vote. We find a significant interaction which shows that incumbents develop larger personal votes in areas where they are electorally most vulnerable.

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