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The term “incumbent” refers to the current holder of a particular office or position, typically within the context of an election. In the context of a presidential election, the incumbent is the individual who currently occupies or serves in the office of president prior to the election, whether they are seeking re-election or not. There are instances where there may not be an incumbent during an election for a specific office or position, such as when a new electoral division is established. In such cases, the office or position is considered vacant or open. In the United States, an election that lacks an incumbent is commonly referred to as an “open seat” or “open contest.

The term “incumbent” is etymologically rooted in the Latin verb “incumbere,” which literally means “to lean or lay upon.” The present participle stem of “incumbent” is “incumbent-” and it shares a connection with the word “encumber.” “Encumber” is derived from the root “cumber,” which can be most accurately defined as “to occupy obstructively or inconveniently.” It implies the act of blocking or filling up something with hindrances that impede freedom of movement or action, essentially burdening or loading it.



The term “incumbent” has its origins in the Latin verb “incumbere,” which quite literally signifies “to lean or lay upon.” Its present participle stem is “incumbent-,” which can be associated with the idea of “leaning,” akin to the term “encumber.” “Encumber,” on the other hand, traces its roots back to the root word “cumber.” “Cumber” is most aptly described as “to occupy obstructively or inconveniently” and implies the act of blocking or filling up something with obstacles that impede the freedom of movement or action, effectively burdening or loading it.

The Benefit Of Power

In general, incumbents enjoy a political advantage over challengers in elections. This advantage may include the ability to set the election date in some countries unless it’s constitutionally or legislatively determined.

For most political positions, incumbents typically have higher name recognition due to their prior service in the role. Additionally, incumbents often have easier access to campaign financing and can indirectly utilize government resources, like the franking privilege, to support their re-election campaigns.

In the United States, an election, especially for a legislative single-member constituency, where the incumbent is not seeking re-election, is often referred to as an “open seat.” These elections, lacking the advantage of incumbency, tend to be highly competitive. Open contests can also arise when term limits prevent incumbents from seeking re-election, such as the two-term limit for U.S. presidents.

While the incumbent’s advantage has fluctuated over the years, it has remained relatively stable in terms of the probability of an incumbent losing their seat. Elections with an incumbent tend to revolve around evaluating the incumbent’s performance, making them a referendum on the incumbent’s record. Only if voters decide to “fire” the incumbent do they delve into assessing whether any of the challengers present an acceptable alternative.

A 2017 study in the British Journal of Political Science suggests that the incumbency advantage arises because voters evaluate the incumbent’s ideology individually, assuming that any challenger shares their party’s ideology. This advantage becomes more significant as political polarization increases. Another study in the Journal of Politics found that incumbents have a notably larger advantage in elections that occur alongside the regular election cycle compared to off-cycle elections.

Business Use

In the context of business operations and competition, an incumbent supplier typically refers to the supplier currently meeting a customer’s requirements. Consequently, the incumbent supplier holds a favorable position when it comes to retaining this role or negotiating a new contract as compared to rival businesses.

Sophomore Surge

In the context of business operations and competition, an incumbent supplier typically refers to the supplier currently meeting a customer’s requirements. Consequently, the incumbent supplier holds a favorable position when it comes to retaining this role or negotiating a new contract as compared to rival businesses.


However, there are situations where the incumbency factor can actually lead to the downfall of the incumbent, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “anti-incumbency factor.” This occurs when the incumbent has demonstrated their inadequacy in office during their tenure, and the challengers effectively convey this message to the voters. The anti-incumbency factor can also contribute to the defeat of long-serving incumbents, even when their performance indicators may be positive, simply because voters are persuaded by the challengers that a change is necessary.

It is argued that individuals holding highly powerful offices can be subjected to immense pressure, rendering them politically ineffective and unable to garner enough public confidence for re-election. This is notably observed in the case of the French Presidency. Additionally, voters who have suffered negative economic setbacks, such as a loss of income, are less likely to support an incumbent candidate compared to those who haven’t experienced such hardships.

In 1989, pollster Nick Panagakis coined what he called the “incumbent rule,” suggesting that any voter who claims to be undecided toward the end of an election will likely end up voting for a challenger.

In France, this phenomenon is encapsulated in the phrase “Sortez les sortants” or “Get out the outgoing [representatives].” This slogan was notably used by the Poujadist movement during the 1956 French legislative election.


The treaty did not bring about a lasting peace but rather provided a temporary hiatus of nine years in the Hundred Years’ War. During the subsequent years, French forces found themselves engaged in conflicts against the Anglo-Navarrese, exemplified by Bertrand du Guesclin’s triumph at Cocherel on May 16, 1364, as well as facing off against the Bretons in battle.

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