Defying the Incumbency Advantage: An Electoral Analysis of California’s 52nd

By Alexander George Lee

California’s 52nd congressional race has been labeled one of the top 10 races to watch by Politico. And this is for a good reason as the race in the 52nd goes against conventional political wisdom. Former city Councilmen Carl DeMaio defies the theory of incumbency advantage as well as negates the advantages typically split along party lines. The Cook Report and Rothenberg Political Report recently labeled the race a “pure toss up”. However, Cook and Rothenburg’s electoral analysis misses the mark. This race when analyzed metric by metric shows Carl DeMaio having the upper hand over Congressmen Scott Peters.

In recent decades, Congressional incumbents have seen reelection rates reaching as high as 98%. This is attributed to the incumbency advantage. Incumbents typically raise significantly greater amounts of funding for their campaigns versus their opponents, they have much higher name recognition, and lastly members of Congress are in constant contact with their constituency per the normal functions of their official duties. In this analysis I will provide evidence that demonstrates how Carl DeMaio has a challenger advantage. DeMaio’s advantages expand beyond the metrics of incumbency advantage. DeMaio also capitalizes on important measures typically associated with members of the Democratic Party.

Incumbents typically have the ability to raise funds far surpassing those of their challengers.For example, OpenSecrets reported that in the last midterm election challengers raised on average close to 1.6 million compared to the incumbents nearly 2.6 million. Incumbents had a whopping 64% edge in fundraising over their challenger. In 2014 – as of the first quarter, the average amount a challenger raised was $260,000 and the average incumbent had raised 1.6 million according to OpenSecrets. This shows a nearly 83% advantage for incumbents in their ability to fundraising over their challenger.

One of the most striking examples of how Carl DeMaio has turned the incumbency advantage on its head would be his mode for fundraising. The Rothenberg Political Report has labeled Carl DeMaio “a fundraising machine”. Carl DeMaio as of the first quarter has raised 1.6 million compared to Congressmen Peters’ 1.76 million according to their first quarter Federal Election Commission reports. In comparison to other challengers in this election cycle, DeMaio has raised nearly 84% more funds. Congressmen Scott Peters and Carl DeMaio are virtually in a tie in regards to fundraising, which especially at this point in a race is unheard of. This demonstrates a serious strength coming from the challenger, Carl DeMaio.

Name recognition has been shown to hold significant benefits for a candidate in an election. Cindy Kam of Vanderbilt University conducted a study which showed clear benefits for a candidate that received higher name recognition. It has been stated that name recognition is normally much higher for incumbents. A poll done by SurveyUsa showed that Carl DeMaio had a significant lead in name recognition over the incumbent. Carl DeMaio’s high level of name recognition can be partially attributed to his recent mayoral race and his duration as city councilmen. Carl DeMaio’s striking lead in recognition poses to negate another extremely important advantage that incumbents rely upon for reelection.

Addressing the concerns of a representative’s constituency is arguably the sole most important role of an elected official. This role demands consistent contact and communication with one’s district and the individuals, organizations, and business within the district. This allows the incumbent to bridge ideological gaps with members of their constituency by developing relationships based on providing solutions for their concerns. An effective incumbent is consistently provides solutions to their constituency. Carl DeMaio has negated this incumbency advantage metric by recently being city councilmen in the areas overlapping with the 52nd district. Carl DeMaio also has a proven record of working across the aisle and achieving monumental reforms. Therefore, Carl DeMaio is able to have a similar type of relationship with the voters in the 52nd that incumbent Scott Peters has. Carl also recently ran for mayor in 2012 and won the 52nd by 16 points in that mayoral race against now ex-mayor Bob “Filthy” Filner according to a report down by San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Therefore Carl has continued to be in contact with the voters in the 52nd. Carl DeMaio has been there providing solutions for the voters of the 52nd in a way that rivals the incumbent Scott Peters.

Carl DeMaio has a clear advantage in both name recognition and constituent support in the 52nd district. Carl Demaio’s ability to fundraise is on par with the incumbent and far surpasses the average challenger. His advantages do not end there as he also has striking leads in advantages typically associated with party lines. Social media is typically not a strong suit for Republicans. The most notable example of democrats successfully utilizing social media was in the 2008 election. However, once again we see DeMaio having a clear advantage when it comes to social media. As of May 22nd Carl DeMaio had 74% more twitter followers than Scott Peters personal account and 65% more Facebook likes. Carl DeMaio also seizes key demographics associated with the Democratic Party. Carl receives more votes from Youth, Latino, Women and Independent demographics in a race against Congressmen Scott Peters according to a poll done by SurveyUsa.

The Rothenberg and Cook Report do not label this race as having a challenger advantage due to the overwhelming reelection rate of congressional representatives. This race however clearly has a challenger advantage when thoroughly analyzed. Carl DeMaio wins key demographics normally capitalized by democrats; fundraises as much as the incumbent; has rapport with the voters that rivals Scott Peters; dominates social media; and is more well known in the district than the incumbent himself. I conclude that Cook and Rothenberg have it wrong. A thorough examination of California’s 52nd shows it going red in November.

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