Strategic Retirements: The Influence of Public Preferences On Voluntary Departures from Congress

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Are members of Congress responsive to public preferences in their decisions to seek reelection or retire, or do members simply rely on the advantages of incumbency to secure reelection? I argue that members of Congress consider their electoral vulnerability when deciding whether or not to seek reelection, informing their reelection odds with the same short-term electoral forces that influence election outcomes: partisan preferences, economic evaluations, and congressional approval. Considering aggregate rates of voluntary departures from the House and Senate from 1954 to 2004, I show that rates of retirement reflect, not only institutional environments within Congress, but also the mood of the electorate.

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