FACT CHECK: Are Members Of Congress Reelected 98 Percent Of The Time?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna tweeted that the reelection rate for members of Congress is 98 percent.

Verdict: True

Khanna is close. In the 2016 election cycle, 97 percent of the incumbents who ran were reelected to the House and 93 percent were reelected to the Senate.

Fact Check:

Khanna, a freshman congressman from California, introduced a bipartisan proposal in May to impose term limits on members of Congress. The bill would limit members to 12 years in office and require an amendment to the Constitution.

The congressman appeared on the political talk show “Matter of Fact” days later, where he used the 98 percent stat to argue for the proposal.

“One of the reasons people don’t vote is incumbents have such an advantage,” he said. “The reelection rate of incumbent members of Congress is 98 percent, and what term limits will do is have many more competitive elections because you’re going to have much more turnover in these seats.”

Khanna cited the figure again last week.

“The reelection rate for incumbents is 98%” he tweeted, along with a clip from his appearance on “Matter of Fact.”

There were 393 House members who sought reelection in 2016, and according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, 380 of them won – a 97 percent success rate. The success rate was 98 percent for those who made it past their primaries.

The Senate experienced a slightly lower incumbency rate of 93 percent. Of the 29 senators who ran for another term in 2016, 27 of them won.

These rates have remained consistently high over time. The incumbency rate for the House, where Khanna serves, has averaged 93 percent since World War II. It has not dropped below 85 percent since at least 1964, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the organization that runs OpenSecrets.org.

“With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats,” reads their website.

In the 2016 election cycle, House incumbents raised $1.6 million on average, according to the CRP, while challengers averaged $232,000.

Some political commentators have also suggested that gerrymandering – drawing district lines in such a way that favors one party – has contributed to the high incumbency rate in House races, although some political scientists dispute this theory.

At the statewide level, senators are typically reelected, but not as reliably. Senators have been reelected 80 percent of the time in elections since World War II.

Despite the ability of senators to bring federal dollars to their state and develop relationships with their constituents, challengers can still mount effective campaigns, as happened in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The reelection rate had steadily dropped to 55 percent by 1980 before rebounding to 93 percent the following cycle.

In 2016, incumbent senators raised $12.7 million on average, versus the $1.6 million raised by challengers.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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