skip to main content

CAG News & Alerts

Center on the American Governor > On Governors > U.S. Governors > When Governors Seek Re-Election

When Governors Seek Re-Election

The Center on the American Governor has found that across the country when modern incumbent governors have sought re-election, they have been successful just over 72% of the time. Over the last 65 years, the rate has increased almost every decade – from an average of 68.26% between 1948 and 1979 to an average of 79.22% from 1980 through 2013.

The information compiled by the Center is broken down below by decade, region and gender. The full data set, including year, incumbent name, challenger name and winner, is available here. Incumbent success rates can be viewed by state and by year.

 

Governors Seeking Re-Election

Years    Incumbents Running   Incumbents Winning   Success Rate 
1948-2013 573 413 72.08%
1948-1979 318 211 68.26%
1980-2013 255 202 79.22%

 

The re-election success rate for incumbent governors has gone up almost every decade with the largest jumps occurring from 1980-1990 and from the 2000s to 2010-2013.

Decade      Incumbents Running   Incumbents Winning   Success Rate 
1948-1959 128 85 66.41%
1960s 96 61 63.54%
1970s 94 65 69.15%
1980s 73 54 73.97%
1990s 89 72 80.90%
2000s 69 55 79.71%
2010-2013 24 21 87.50%

 

Re-Election Rates by Region

Regionally, governors seeking re-election have had the greatest success in the Northeast where, since 1948, 76.32% have won their races.  Even in the Southeast region where incumbents have most frequently lost, however, more than two-thirds – 68.97% -have been successful.

Region    Incumbents Running    Incumbents Winning   Success Rate 
Northeast 153 117 76.47%
Southeast   97   60 68.97%
Midwest 162 116 71.60%
Southwest   52   36 69.23%
West 119   84 70.59%


Re-Election Rate in New Jersey

In New Jersey, seven of the ten incumbent governors to run for re-election since 1948 have been successful. Those who lost were Governor William Cahill, defeated in the Republican primary in 1973, and Governors Jim Florio in 1993 and Jon Corzine in 2009, beaten by Christine Todd Whitman and Chris Christie respectively.  Most recently, in 2013, Chris Christie won re-election, defeating challenger Barbara Buono.


Re-Election Rates by Gender

Since 1970, 18 women have run for re-election as incumbent governors and 15 (83.33%) have been successful.  Of these races, 14 took place in 1990 or later and 12 of them were successful. A woman incumbent governor running for re-election has not been defeated since Ann Richards (D-TX) lost to George W. Bush in 1994.

Information on past governors is available at the National Governors Association Website, www.nga.org. Detailed election results from past campaigns are available at www.ourcampaigns.com. Many state archives also have websites with information about that state’s former governors.

Colin McDowell, a Rutgers University undergraduate assisting the Center on the American Governor as an Aresty Research Assistant in 2012 – 2013, was responsible for collecting and analyzing much of the data in this section.