Press Release: Despite low approval ratings, congressional incumbents coast through primaries

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Ballotpedia study tracks competitiveness of 2012 House races

Madison - August 30, 2013: The congressional approval rating is perpetually low, but the majority of incumbents face minimal competition in primary elections.

Ballotpedia, a project of the non-profit, nonpartisan Lucy Burns Institute, recently released a study detailing the extent of this phenomenon in the 2012 election cycle. The study found that roughly half of 2012 House incumbents coasted to the general election without a primary challenger. The lack of competition in congressional primaries leaves voters with limited options.

According to Sarah Rosier, Congress Director for Ballotpedia, “Although the 2012 elections were still more competitive than previous years, the level of competitiveness does not match up to voters’ dissatisfaction with Congress.” If current trends continue, it is likely that the majority of incumbents will face relatively easy re-election in 2014.

Fast Facts:

  • According to Gallup, the congressional approval rating hovers around 15%.
  • Of the 393 House incumbents who ran for re-election in 2012, just over 50% faced a contested primary.
  • Of the incumbents who were contested, merely 5% of these races were within a 10% margin of victory.
  • Only thirteen House incumbents lost their primary. Of those thirteen, seven were incumbent versus incumbent races, due to redistricting. Only five incumbents lost a primary election to a non-incumbent challenger.

The most competitive primary involving an incumbent in 2012 was Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which had a margin of victory of 1.4% (22,273 votes). The least competitive primary involving an incumbent was Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which had a margin of victory of 88.27% (49,625 votes). Maryland boasted 3 of the 5 least contested primaries involving an incumbent in 2012.

About the Lucy Burns Institute
Ballotpedia is a project of the Lucy Burns Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The mission of the Lucy Burns Institute is to empower people to engage in democracy by delivering exceptionally high quality information that is easy to access. Toward that end, LBI publishes Ballotpedia, Judgepedia, and Policypedia, online resources that equip voter with the facts about local, state, and federal politics and policy. Since the organization’s founding in December 2006, LBI’s online articles have received nearly 400 million page views.


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