Why Incumbents Keep Winning

Helen Shibut

            It seems like almost no one approves of the job Congress is doing, but the same people keep getting elected over and over again.  Why is that?

            Incumbents in Congress get all sorts of privileges that help them win elections, even when they are unpopular.  Most congressional districts lean heavily towards one party, so general elections are often uncompetitive.  Incumbents get so much help from the government that they often don’t face challenges from within their own parties.  In Virginia, incumbents who are challenged by members of their own parties get to choose to compete in either a primary election or a convention.  Primaries are more expensive for taxpayers, but they allow incumbents to more effectively utilize another privilege, called franking.  The franking privilege allows incumbents to use tax dollars to mail out campaign literature.  According to the Congressional Research Service, members of Congress spend $18.1 million on mass mailings every year. 

            Madison Liberty is based in Harrisonburg, a relatively conservative district in which most voters say they support cutting spending and limiting government.  Our representative, Congressman Goodlatte, is currently engaged in a primary race with Karen Kwiatkowski and is fighting for his eleventh term.  Like most Congressional incumbents, his campaign is taking advantage of the franking privilege.

            Since March, I have attempted to contact Mr. Goodlatte’s office by phone and email, but so far I haven’t gotten a response.  I encourage readers to email Mr. Goodlatte about how he’s using the franking privilege.  Regardless of whom we support, I hope most of us can agree that elections should be fair, and that candidates should do their own fundraising, rather than taking from the taxpayers. 

Madison Liberty does not endorse any candidate.  Writers like myself may personally advocate for campaigns, but as a group we are nonpartisan and choose to focus on educating people about the benefits of free markets, individual liberty, and non-interventionism. 


  1. It really is mind-boggling that Bob Goodlatte has been in office as long as he has, especially in a Conservative district like the 6th. His voter record proves he isn't a Conservative in the traditional, small government-sense. You don't have to look further than his support for big government bills such as SOPA and CISPA to see this.

    Incumbents have a huge advantage in primaries, because of voter apathy mixed with tactics such as this. And if it weren't for Goodlatte's incumbent status, I couldn't ever imagine him getting elected in this district.

  2. Anonymous30/5/12 13:02

    His support of the Patriot Act, ethanol subsidies, the USDA's National Animal Identification System, and many debt ceiling increases don't seem to mesh with the conservative values of the majority of 6th district voters. It will be interesting to see how he fairs in his first primary election on June 12.

    Since February, I have emailed Mr. Goodlatte multiple times about doing an interview for this blog, but his staff has failed to get back to me.