By Ben Reynolds

In elections, incumbents typically hold an electoral advantage. Attempts to defeat an incumbent, or flip a seat’s partisan control, can be difficult. Generally, incumbents have advantages in fundraising, name recognition and past policy work to name a few. In the 2022 general election, there were 6,728 state legislative seats, 307 state executive seats and 384 judicial court seats on the ballot. There were 5,095 incumbent candidates and 7,069 non-incumbent candidates running for election. Overall, the judicial branch had the highest percentage of incumbents running for election compared to the legislative and executive branches.

Table 1: Incumbent candidates by branch of state government

Office BranchPercentage of Candidates that were Incumbents

When comparing candidates by party, 49% of Republican candidates were incumbents and 45% of Democratic candidates were incumbents. Republican and Democratic incumbent candidates made up 33% of all total candidates running for office in the 2022 midterm elections.

Table 2: Percentage of Incumbents Running

Political PartyPercentage Incumbent
Other Parties>1%

17% (2,088) of state races were uncontested elections (elections in which candidates run unopposed). Republican candidates were more likely to run in uncontested elections (55%) while Democratic candidates were more likely to run in competitive races (66%). Of Democrats running unopposed, 87% were incumbents. In comparison, among Republicans running unopposed, 79% were incumbents.

The following analysis looks at competitive races, defined as races that have two or more candidates running for the same office. In this year’s election, 83% of races were competitive.

As of November 15, 2022, there were 4,302 winners of competitive races in this year’s election. Of those winners, 67% were incumbents. Among incumbents, only 4% lost a competitive race.

Breaking down incumbent performance by party shows that Republican incumbents performed slightly better than Democratic incumbents. Republican incumbents won 85% of their races compared to 83% of competitive races won by Democratic incumbents.  

Table 3: Incumbent and Non-Incumbent Performance in Competitive Races

Political PartyIncumbent WinIncumbent LostNon-Incumbent WinNon-Incumbent Lost
Democrat1,450 886231,734

Incumbents vs Non-Incumbents by Office Branch

Incumbent performance in competitive races was relatively similar among the three office branches.

Table 4: Incumbent Performance by Office Branch

Office BranchTotal Incumbents WonIncumbent Win PercentageTotal Races Won

Incumbents won the majority of executive races. Nearly all incumbent state governors won re-election. When breaking down incumbent performance by political party, Democratic and Republican incumbents won competitive executive races at similar rates, and nonpartisan incumbents won 9% of competitive executive races.

In the legislature, incumbents won 67% of races. Democratic incumbents won 43%, while Republican incumbents won 41% of competitive legislative races. Non-Republican and Democratic incumbents accounted for less than 1% of winners in competitive legislative races.

Incumbents won 65% of competitive judicial races. When you compare by political party, Democratic incumbents won 9%, Republican incumbents won 27% and nonpartisan incumbents won 27% of competitive judicial races. Many state’s judicial races are considered nonpartisan elections, so it is expected that nonpartisan incumbents performed better in this category.

In elections, incumbents typically hold an electoral advantage, and that stood true in this year’s general. Nearly all incumbent state governors won re-election. Currently, only Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak lost to challenger Joe Lombardo. Overall, judicial incumbents performed the best followed by legislative incumbents and finally executive incumbents.

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