Definition of Incumbent

To understand the word “incumbent,” think about your school’s student council president. If they were to run for the position again next year while they already have the role, that person would be the incumbent. Another way to think of an incumbent is like someone who is currently living in a house and has the possibility to stay there if they choose to and are allowed to.

In politics, an incumbent is simply the person who has the job right now, whether it’s the mayor, governor, congressperson, or even the President. If there’s an election and these folks want to keep their job, they run as incumbents. They’ve got the experience, have already been working on projects and issues, and people know who they are, which can be a big help when they ask voters to re-elect them.

Examples of Incumbent

Let’s look at some clear examples of incumbents and understand why they are considered as such:

  • The President: When the current President tries to win another four-year term, they are the incumbent. This is because they are already in the White House doing the job and hoping people will vote for them again.
  • Senators and Representatives: These are the people who make our national laws. When they’re in the middle of their term and decide to run again, they are the incumbents. They’ve been working in Congress, maybe passing laws or speaking up about issues that matter to you.
  • Mayors and Governors: Similar to the President and Congresspeople, the mayors and governors already managing their cities and states are incumbents if they compete again. They have been making decisions and leading, which helps people know their leadership style and how they handle problems.

Incumbents are the people who have the nameplate on the door, but when election time rolls around, they ask you to keep them where they are. An incumbent mayor, for instance, would be the person who’s been in charge of your city and is asking for another term to continue their work.

Why is it Important?

Knowing about incumbents is important for a pretty cool reason. They have a headstart in the race because they have been sitting in the office, and they already know the ins and outs of the job. They’ve built up a name for themselves, have figured out how to raise money for their campaigns, and have actual work they’ve done that people can look at. This headstart sometimes gives them an edge over people who are trying to get elected for the first time.

This matters to us because the people who run our schools, towns, and country make decisions that impact our lives. If they do a good job, things can go smoothly, like having good schools and safe neighborhoods. So when incumbents run for re-election, looking at their record helps us decide if they deserve our vote again. Plus, they can continue projects that make our communities better without starting from scratch.


The word “incumbent” has a history that goes way back. Picture a person resting on a couch—this image relates to the original meaning of the Latin word “incumbens,” from which “incumbent” is derived. It’s like the political equivalent of sitting comfortably in their office chair. This concept has been part of elections since around the 1600s, showing that the idea of someone staying in their role and potentially continuing their work isn’t new at all.


Now, it’s not all smooth sailing for incumbents. There are some tricky issues. One of the biggest is the “incumbent advantage,” which means some folks think it’s not really fair for people who’ve had the job to have a better chance of keeping it just because they’re more well-known or have more money.

Others worry about gerrymandering, which is a weird word for when incumbents change the shape of voting areas to increase their chances of winning. And then there’s the question of term limits, the rule saying you can only be in the job for so long. Some people argue this prevents anyone from getting too much power and possibly becoming corrupt.

Other Important Aspects

There’s more you should know about incumbents. For example, a president who’s served the maximum amount of time and can’t run anymore is not an incumbent when it’s time to elect a new president. Also, sometimes incumbents have to compete against people from their own political party before they can even try for the general election.

It’s also key to remember that incumbents have a big role in making decisions that affect us every day. They can push for important changes, like new rules that keep our environment clean or laws that make sure everyone gets a fair shot at success.

Related Topics

When we talk about incumbents, other topics come up that are also good to know about:

  • Elections: This is when people vote to choose their leaders, which is when incumbents can run for re-election. Elections decide who makes the big decisions about our lives for the next few years.
  • Campaigns: These are the efforts incumbents and their challengers put into convincing us to vote for them. Campaigns include advertisements, public speeches, and all sorts of events.
  • Term Limits: This idea sets a max on how long someone can stay in certain political jobs, so they don’t get too much power and stop others from bringing fresh ideas to the table.
  • Gerrymandering: This is when the boundaries of voting areas are changed to help certain candidates win. It can make elections less fair because it’s kind of like changing the rules of the game to benefit some players over others.
  • Voting Rights: These are the laws that determine who can vote and how. Incumbents can influence these rules, sometimes making it easier or harder for folks to participate in elections.


In conclusion, an incumbent is the person who’s already in a political seat, like a city mayor or the President. They have a unique position when running for re-election because they can show what they’ve done and promise to keep working on it. Understanding incumbents helps us make informed choices about who leads us. It’s also important to be aware of the controversies and related issues, ensuring that the power to choose our leaders stays fair and representative of what we all want for our schools, towns, and country. After all, these leaders make decisions that shape our everyday life and our future.