State legislative incumbents are losing at higher rates than prior election years

Three incumbents have lost in the 31 states that have held primaries for U.S. Congress. Challengers have defeated 85 incumbents in state legislative races.

Congressional incumbent defeats are comparable to previous years while state legislative defeats have occurred at a slightly higher rate.

All three defeated congressional incumbents to date have been members of the U.S. House.

  • Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) lost to Pastor Mark Harris (R), who said Pittenger was not sufficiently supportive of President Trump and criticized him for his vote in favor of an omnibus spending bill in March.

  • Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) lost to state Rep. Katie Arrington (R), who had also criticized Sanford for insufficient support of Trump and was endorsed by the president shortly before the close of polls.

  • Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the fourth-ranking House Democrat, was unseated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), a self-described democratic socialist who ran with the support of progressive groups including Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution.

To date, 13.5 percent of all state legislative incumbents to face primary challenges have been defeated. In previous years, the rate of incumbents defeated in primary challenges was closer to 12 percent. In 2016, for example, 123 of the 1,042 incumbents facing primary challenges (11.6 percent) fell in primaries.

Defeats this year include 37 Democrats (13.8 percent of all Democrats facing primary challenges) and 48 Republicans(13.3 percent of all Republicans facing primary challenges).

Democrats make up a larger proportion of state legislative primary incumbent defeats relative to previous years. So far in 2018, 37 out of 85 defeated incumbents (43.5 percent) have been Democrats. This compares to 39 out of 123 (31.7 percent) in 2016, 46 out of 131 (35.1 percent) in 2014, and 71 out of 194 (36.6 percent) in 2012. In 2010, Democrats made up 56 out of 112 (50 percent) of all primary defeats.

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