Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2011

Document Type


First Advisor



The literature on the “incumbency factor” and its sources in congressional politics is some of the most pervasive in political science. However, few scholars have attempted—and none have persuasively established—the significance of the incumbency factor in lower visibility elections, such as those on the local level. Within this context, my honors thesis seeks to answer two research questions: (1) Does the incumbency factor exist on the local level? and (2) If so, what are its causal mechanisms? My findings from aggregated race-level data from the Commonwealth of Virginia and over 1,000 local candidate survey responses corroborate that this “Black Box” of the local incumbency factor does, in fact, exist. Furthermore, bivariate and multivariate probit and Ordinary Least Square regressions techniques revealed that the local incumbency factor is dominantly explained by quality challenger deterrence and probably contributed to by the institutional characteristics and resources of the offices at stake, though to a much lesser extent.