Congressional Career Decisions in the 2018 Congressional Midterm Elections

Hanna K. Brant, L. Marvin Overby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although we prefer to think of congressional turnover as being electorally driven and based on the choices of voters, in recent decades retirements/resignations have been a larger contributor to change in the composition of both chambers of Congress than have electoral defeats of incumbents. In this article, we consider the impact of retirements (and other forms of non-electoral exits) on the 2018 congressional midterms, focusing primarily on the House of Representatives. After reviewing the relevant (and limited) literature, we provide a descriptive overview of congressional retirements (including the unusual retirement of a comparatively young speaker of the House and almost two dozen GOP committee and subcommittee chairs) then examine the extent of voluntary retirements in this electoral cycle against historical patterns, and explore the effects of different retirements (i.e., progressive ambition versus retirement from public life). Using multivariate models, we examine which factors correlate significantly with retirement decisions, test for a partisan differential in retirement rates, and compare the rates at which the parties are capable of replacing retirees with co-partisans. Our analysis allows us to consider the ongoing importance of members’ career decisions for the composition of and the partisan balance of power in the U. S. Congress. Within the context of 2018 specifically, these career decisions had substantial implications for partisan control of the House, experience and leadership within the House Republican conference, and entrance of female members into Congress and toward higher office.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-24
Number of pages17
JournalCongress and the Presidency
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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