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Ballotpedia study: More incumbent state legislators losing in primaries than prior election cycles

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July 26, 2012

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By Geoff Pallay

MADISON, Wisconsin: An early look at the 2012 legislative primary results indicates a higher number of primary challengers are defeating incumbent state legislators than in previous years.

A new report released today by Ballotpedia, Primary Change: Anti-Incumbency Voting Patterns in State Legislative Primaries, finds that 76 incumbent state legislators have lost in primaries so far in 2012.

There will be 6,015 state legislative seats up for election in 2012. Thus far, a total of 2,930 seats have held primaries, which accounts for 48.7 percent of the seats that were up for election this presidential year.

Of the 76 incumbents that have lost a primary in 2012, 22 are Democratic incumbents and 54 are Republican incumbents.

Main results

Figure 1

For this study, Ballotpedia staff analyzed the races that have been held through July 26, 2012. We tracked how many incumbents ran for re-election, then explored how many faced a primary opponent; and finally, how many were ultimately defeated in the primary. This process was a sub-study within the larger Ballotpedia project, the Competitiveness Index.

2012 results

  • 2,301 incumbents have sought re-election so far in 2012
  • 513 of them (22.29 percent) have faced a primary opponent
  • 76 incumbents have lost in a primary (14.8 percent)

2010 results

  • 4,985 incumbents sought re-election
  • 1,133 incumbents faced a primary (22.7 percent)
  • 95 incumbents were defeated. (8.38 percent)

2012 vs. 2010

  • The 14.8 percent of incumbents who have lost a primary in 2012 is 76.7 percent higher than the 8.38 percent in 2010.
  • Twelve of the 76 incumbents defeated this year lost to a fellow incumbent in districts whose boundaries were changed through redistricting. Even subtracting these incumbents, the rate of defeats in 2012 is higher than in 2010.

Further analysis

As the remaining primaries unfold, Ballotpedia staff will be tracking to see how the ultimate total figures shape up to the 2010 levels. If the early trends continue, at least 150 incumbents could lose in a primary in 2012.

Full study

See also