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The Cost of Ruling: Anti-Incumbency in Elections

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"Anti-incumbency" is the most frequently cited reason for why ruling parties face poor odds of getting re-elected in India. Drawing on the comparative politics literature and using electoral data from 1977 to 2005, this paper analyses the performance of ruling parties in national and state elections in India. The findings are that incumbent members of Parliament from national ruling parties and legislative assembly members from state ruling parties are less likely to win than incumbents from the opposition when they come up for re-election. The paper also measures the "honeymoon period" effect, namely, the advantage that candidates from the state ruling party enjoy in national elections that are held early in the state government's term and candidates from the national ruling party enjoy in state elections. India's patronage-based democratic system and federal structure creates incentives for voters to favour the same party for national and state office and coordinate their votes. However, the honeymoon period is short-lived, and the positive effect turns into a negative penalty within two years of a party's term in office.

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