Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 7 > Issue 4

What Happens to Incumbents in Scandals?

Shigeo Hirano, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, USA, sh145@columbia.edu , James M. Snyder Jr., Department of Government, Harvard University and NBER, USA, jsnyder@gov.harvard.edu
Suggested Citation
Shigeo Hirano and James M. Snyder Jr. (2012), "What Happens to Incumbents in Scandals?", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 7: No. 4, pp 447-456. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00012039

Publication Date: 17 Oct 2012
© 2012 S. Hirano and J. M. Snyder, Jr.
Political corruption,  Elections


Download article
In this article:
Scandals and Electoral Competition, 1978 to 2008 


One key role of elections is to allow voters to remove politicians who perform poorly in office. We analyze the extent to which incumbents who are involved in relatively serious political scandals lose elections. More importantly, we assess the relative importance of primary and general elections in removing such incumbents. How often do incumbents involved in relatively serious scandals lose in the primary election? How often do they lose in the general election? How often is it the case that the primary election was probably necessary in order to remove the incumbent — i.e., would the incumbents in "safe districts" have been re-elected in the general election if they did not lose in the primary? We find that that incumbents in scandals are more likely to face a serious primary challenger compared to other incumbents. This relationship is even stronger when the incumbent represents a "safe district" — i.e., a district where she would probably have won the general election. Our estimates suggest that primary elections have an important role in removing incumbents in otherwise "safe districts."