US House incumbents enjoy profound electoral advantages, yet existing research has not asked whether individual voters actually prefer incumbents over newcomers, other things being equal. Instead, existing research has focused on showing that other things are not equal by emphasizing the structural advantages that incumbents enjoy. Political scientists, economists, and pundits have frequently speculated that voters either reward or punish incumbency, even when structural advantages are ignored. A randomized survey experiment administered in two waves to 1,976 respondents suggests that voters respond only minimally—if at all—to incumbency status once the structural advantages are held constant. Voters do not exhibit a strong general preference either for or against incumbency.

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