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District Complexity and the Congressional Incumbency Advantage



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District Complexity and the Congressional Incumbency Advantage Michael J Ensley Indiana University Michael W Tofias University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Scott de Marchi Duke University Contact Information Michael J Ensley Department of Political Science 1100 E Seventh Street Indiana University Bloomington IN 47405 Phone 812 855 5098 Fax 812 855 2027 ensley indiana edu 0 Abstract Many scholars of congressional elections have argued that an increase in the diversity of preferences in a district increases the level of electoral competition We argue that there is strong reason to believe that the opposite is true As the diversity of preferences increases and thus as the complexity of the electoral landscape increases challengers will have a more difficult time locating an optimal platform when facing an incumbent Using data form the 2000 National Annenberg Election Study we construct a measure of district complexity for U S House districts and test whether the entry of quality challengers and the incumbent s share of the two party vote are affected by the complexity of the electoral landscape We find strong support for the hypothesis that complexity benefits incumbents for both indicators of electoral competition 1 Many studies of congressional elections characterize district preferences along a single partisan or ideological dimension One implication of this perspective is that competition between candidates is reduced to a simple problem locate at the position of the median voter While a single dimension may adequately define the space of elite partisan conflict in Congress Poole and Rosenthal 1997 public opinion across major policy issues can not be reduced to a single dimension of conflict Carsey and Layman 2002 This suggests that our understanding of electoral competition is at best incomplete Lodge and Taber 200X Specifically the complexity of the electoral landscape may affect the character and degree of competition such as the size of the incumbency advantage or



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