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The Incumbent in the Living Room: The Rise of Television and the Incumbency Advantage in U.S. House Elections


Markus Prior is assistant professor of politics and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1013.


This study shows that the growth of television contributed to the rise in the incumbency advantage in U.S. House elections during the 1960s. Incumbents received positive coverage throughout their term and were generally more newsworthy and better funded than their challengers during the campaign. Less-educated voters, for whom television presented a new, less demanding source of news, were most affected by local television. Analysis of National Elections Studies data reveals that less-educated respondents were more knowledgeable about the incumbent and more likely to vote for the incumbent in districts with television stations. Aggregate analysis shows that incumbents’ vote margins increased in proportion to the number of television stations in their districts.