Historically, incumbent politicians rarely seem to lose their bids for reelection. In New York's primary elections today for the House of Representatives, one incumbent is likely to defy the odds by losing their seat. But unfortunately, the reason is not that voters wanted a change.
New York was scheduled to hold its primary elections on June 28. Then in April, the state's court of appeals struck down its new district maps, determining that "the district lines for congressional races were drawn with an unconstitutional partisan intent." As a compromise, primaries for state-level races remained on the same date, while races for Congress and the state Legislature were postponed until today.
Under the state's new maps, district lines have shifted such that incumbent candidates are running against one another.
Rep. Jerry Nadler and Rep. Carolyn Maloney are both Democrats representing parts of New York City. Nadler currently represents the state's 10th congressional district, which includes Manhattan's Upper West Side; Maloney represents the 12th, which includes the city's tony Upper East Side. Under the new court-imposed map, both areas are part of the 12th district, and both Nadler and Maloney are running in that primary to keep the seat.
The same thing happened in Georgia when Rep. Lucy McBath ousted fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux after that state's 6th district was redrawn to be more favorable to Republicans. Rather than running for reelection in the newly competitive 6th, McBath ran against Bourdeaux, who represented the nearby 7th, which was still favorable to Democrats.
But the race in New York is slightly different. While McBath and Bourdeaux were upstarts who had recently flipped seats, Nadler and Maloney have been in office for decades, each first elected in 1992. Nadler, head of the House Judiciary Committee, had a visible presence during former President Donald Trump's impeachment trials. Maloney, meanwhile, touts a long history of firsts as the first woman elected to her city council district and the first woman to lead the House Oversight Committee. No matter what happens today, at least one long-serving member of Congress will be voted out of office.
One of the persistent themes of American elections is the power of incumbency. In any given election cycle, the overwhelming majority of officeholders seeking reelection will win their races. Even in "wave" elections that see one party achieve massive success and recapture control of Congress, the rate of incumbents winning reelection is still staggeringly high. House incumbents have not won reelection by a rate of less than 85 percent in at least six decades. Despite the fact that political turnover leads to greater economic growth and less corruption, and even as voters overwhelmingly say that the country is on the wrong track, a solid majority of the country will still pull the lever for the existing candidate when given the choice.
It seems that the only way most voters will fire an incumbent is by voting for a different one instead.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.