Wednesday, December 11, 2019

URSP Student Liam Timmons Investigates Incumbency Advantage in City Council Elections

I researched the impact of demographic characteristics on incumbency advantage in Virginia’s city council elections. While local politics are a topic of great concern among my fellow Government and International Politics majors, these very important elections often get swept under the rug. In my hometown of Princeton, New Jersey, however, city council and school board elections are a big deal, with lots of campaigning and money involved. This seemed out of the ordinary, so I wanted to find out just how tough it is to win a city council election. After I found out that nationally, congressional representatives almost always win re-election if they want it, incumbency advantage seemed like a good place to start. 

On a weekly basis, my work usually consisted of data collection, writing and reviewing literature, and coding in R. City council election data is often spotty or non-existent, and I spent a lot of time in local newspaper archives trying to find incumbency status or election results. I also had to organize this data by hand, because the Virginia Department of Elections data was not formatted how I needed it. I read lots of literature on how to best estimate incumbency advantage, and all my coding and modelling was done in R. Because my R skills were a little rusty, I spent a lot of time day-to-day trying to figure out how to get my code to do what I wanted it to do. Overall, though, I felt the work I carried out day-to-day was valuable in many respects. 

Throughout this research, I’ve found the URSP program to be a valuable and enriching experience. I’ve had opportunities to share my research, learn more about the world around me, and contribute to scholarly research on issues that are important to me