A new Rasmussen poll found that 68 percent of voters think the election rules are rigged to help incumbents, which means there is still 32 percent of the voters who aren’t paying enough attention.
Obviously, the reason this number is so high is because it is true. When Congress has an approval rating in the single digits but roughly 90 percent of them will win re-election, you know there is a problem.
Our system is set up to benefit incumbents in ways big and small. There are of course the normal advantages of incumbency which are going to be inherent to any system. Incumbents have better name recognition, have the power to pass laws to help their districts, have staffers to handle constituents services, have an easier time getting their name in the press, etc.
Sadly, our system goes way beyond that and can be directly rigging it for the benefit of some. The best known example is gerrymandering in many states to create safe districts often designed with particular incumbents in mind. Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, our democracy is often decided by elected officials choosing who their voters will be. Significant gerrymandering is only really possible because we use single member districts. Congress could fix this but that would require incumbents voting to reform a system that helps incumbents get re-elected.
There is also how we fund elections. Since there is no public financing of political campaigns, incumbents are almost always in a better position to make fundraising calls.
Even the way our actual elections are designed can favor incumbents. The fact we use the” first past the post” system in most primary and general elections gives incumbent an edge. This allows the anti-incumbent vote to be possibly split between several challengers, enabling an unpopular incumbent to win with only a plurality.
Most voters think the system is rigged because it is.
Photo by Tom Giebel under Creative Commons license