Incumbent Advantage

Originally posted as a Delegate Campaign in the February 2022 elections, “Incumbent Advantage” represents a call to reconsider voter complacency from the platform of the elections spotlight. Although “Incumbent Advantage” represents serious ideas, the point of my candidacy was simply to spread these ideas, not win the election, and so I withdrew from the race before voting began.

Why do we vote for incumbent candidates? Okay, yes, we voted them into office previously, which means we must believe in them and their vision for the region. But that was four months ago. Incumbents of the past often didn’t put as much effort into their campaigns as they did when they weren’t incumbent delegates. Marrabuk’s second campaign, notably, was criticized by a number of voters. But he still won reelection. Why? Over four months, a lot can change in NationStates, and this means public opinion of a delegate can change, too. Scandals or mishaps can alter the public image of a delegate, but it never seems to be enough to offset the so-called incumbent advantage.

Many have already acknowledged that an incumbent advantage is bad. Earlier, when I said that incumbents of the past often didn’t put as much effort into their campaigns, I met incumbents before Libertanny. The October 2020 Election set a precedent that Albrook, the first delegate since to run for a second term, is likely to be continuing - the idea that you need to try just as hard as if you weren’t the incumbent delegate. It is a good idea, but it covers up the issue, because we can no longer see as easily that incumbents don’t need to put that much effort in to win.

I think it’s because of the core voting population. Those who aren’t active in regional politics, but still vote in elections. This includes Regional Message Board RPers, members of the Evolved Multiverse Roleplay, and a few outliers that are outside of the government community but still very much a part of the community. I believe these individuals often do not even read campaigns, and mostly vote based on who they know and trust. The incumbent advantage, therefore, is that of everyone already knowing and trusting you.

For the rest of the voting population - the retirees such as A Slanted Black Stripe and the modern politicians - it seems to me that the incumbent has to convince them of two things. Number one, they have to convince them that they have done a good job. Often, this means highlighting everything they accomplished in their previous term. Number two, they have to convince them that they are not yet done. That their vision is still shaping, and their goals are just over the horizon. Nine times out of ten, this is as simple as just outright saying that. As long as they do that, they are practically - and this is a sweeping generalization - securing the vote right then and there.

Why? Why is it so easy to convince us that an incumbent delegate deserves a second term? Is the mere act of winning the previous election somehow weightier than the sort of incredibly complex campaigns we have begun to expect from our candidates? I think this is a problem. No, I don’t think this is being taken advantage of. I think Marrabuk, Libertanny, and Albrook earned their second terms. However, I think that this can be taken advantage of, and then, even in a perfect universe, we should still treat incumbent delegates with the same amount of skepticism as other candidates.

But that isn’t my main issue. My main issue is something that I, myself, am guilty of. My main issue is with candidates who run against incumbent delegates and are questioned or entirely disregarded by the voting population just because they aren’t the incumbent. It’s ridiculous, and I have no idea why 2020 Aivintis believed that non-incumbent candidates were “disrupting the delegacy” even in the slightest. The Delegate’s term is over. They are no longer the delegate. They should have done what they said they would do during their term, and should be doing new things now. Often, that’s exactly the case (with a few understandable outliers). Why are we pretending that a second term is just a continuation of the first?

I understand that not everyone does this. I understand that everyone is trying to be more impartial in elections. However, even implicitly, we are believing that a candidate is inherently better because they were the delegate before, and that should not be the case. My campaign is this: Think deeply before voting. If you want to vote for the incumbent, go right ahead. But don’t do it because they are the incumbent. Do it because you believe in them, believe in their vision, believe in their campaign. And when considering other candidates, don’t dismiss them just because they are running against the incumbent.


This is an awesome write-up. I wish I could have read it back in 2022 when it was fresh off the presses.

I think part of what contributes to our outsized incumbent advantage here in TEP is the restrictions we place on delegate campaigns. We limit campaigning to specific threads and topics which tend to be frequented primarily by active and engaged citizens, and less so by, as you’ve mentioned, those who aren’t active in regional politics, but still vote in elections. To many of them, name recognition is often a far more valuable trait than a delegate campaign, and who has more name recognition than the person listed at the tippy top of the ROs?

I’m going to use Europeia as an example here, not because it’s a system I’d want us to replicate, but simply because I’m familiar with it. Over there, there are no restrictions on where and to whom candidates can campaign. This has resulted in a political system wherein campaigning directly to voters, known as “Getting Out The Vote” (GOTV) is almost mandatory to be elected. GOTV campaigns are so important to presidential elections in particular that even absurdly popular incumbents can and have been unseated by challengers with more comprehensive platforms and more energetic GOTV campaigns, and if I recall correctly, only one president has successfully been elected to consecutive terms since the end of the executive split and the reinstatement of the office of President.

Now, such a system of electioneering works in Europeia due to that region’s culture of internal politics, and it’s not something I think would be at all desirable in TEP. That said, if we want to tackle incumbent advantage, it might be worth taking a critical look at our election systems, in addition to encouraging people to put more thought into their voting decisions.