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The presidential incumbency advantage

The video explains the incumbent advantage in Presidential elections. It highlights that the current President often wins due to factors like familiarity, experience, and patriotism. This phenomenon has been observed in over 80% of elections in the past 100 years.

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Video transcript

- What we're going to do in this video is talk about the incumbent advantage. And, this is the idea that the person who is already in power, the incumbent, has an advantage in elections. And, in particular, we're going to focus on Presidential elections, although this idea is pretty common across different offices. Now, it turns out that if you go back over, roughly, the last 100 years, in Presidential elections that had and incumbent, that had a sitting President running for a second term or maybe a third, or a forth term in the case of FDR, you have more than 80% of the time, it goes to the incumbent. And this right over here is a picture of the Presidential Debates from C-SPAN and this in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And President Obama, of course, was the incumbent and he went on to win. And, once again, not unusual, this happened 80% of the time. The last time that a challenger was able to unseat an incumbent was in 1992 when you have President Clinton was able to beat President George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush's father. George H. W. Bush and the time before ... and this is 26 years ago, 26 years before the time of the making of this video. And, to go even before that, the last time before 1992 would have been 1980, when Reagan is able to beat Carter. So, this is a very unusual thing for a challenger to be able to beat an incumbent. Now one thing that I would like you to do is pause this video. Think about why incumbents might have such an advantage. Okay, so there's many scholarly papers written about the idea of the incumbent advantage, both at the Presidential level and at other levels. But we can come up with some ideas as to why the incumbent has the advantage. One is people already imagine that individual as President because they are the President. On top of that, because they are already President, they've had many years of being in the national spotlight. And even during the Presidential campaign, they are still the President and so they have that bully pulpit that President Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt talked about. Bully pulpit, where they can get people's attention when they want to. Even though the challenger might be well-funded, and the press is definitely going to pay attention to the challenger and give them a lot of voice. Because the President is the President, they have the State of the Union Address, they can call Special Sessions of Congress, they have regular press briefings, and so they have a much larger voice even compared to a very prominent challenger. On top of that, there might be some notion of experience and this idea of experience can go in many directions. No matter which candidate has more life experience, which one is older, one could argue that no one has ever really ever been the President unless they are the President. And, so someone who has been in that job for four years has been able to build some experiences that maybe they'll be able to build on for their second term. While, the other person might have to, no matter what they've done in the rest of their life, being the President is fairly new experience. The other idea is that they are experienced campaigners. That they have already run a successful Presidential campaign and this is their second time around, which could help in winning that campaign. Another idea that might help an incumbent... and once again, this is me thinking about it, I encourage you to think about it and see if you buy these or could come up with others... is maybe there is a sense of patriotism. That people are used to thinking of the incumbent as their President for the last several years and so they feel some sense of loyalty to them. This could even be supercharged if maybe it's in wartime or if the country is facing some type of foreign policy crisis that they want to stand behind the person during that time of crisis. They don't want to change who is in charge in the middle of a war or something like that. So, I will leave you there. These are just some ideas why we see this phenomenon of an incumbent advantage. I encourage you to think about why this is happening.