Union University

Union University Department of Political Science

Department of Political Science


Evans Delivers Paper on Progressive Ambition

Apr 16, 2009

Last week, Dr. Sean Evans, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, returned to his old stomping grounds in and around Denver, Colorado to present a paper on progressive ambition in the US House of Representatives at the Southwest Political Science Association. His paper, with two former colleagues from the University of Alabama, examines the decision of members of the House of Representatives to decide to retire from politics, run for reelection, or run for higher office.

His paper which examines this decision of all members of congress from the 80th-110th congresses (1947-2008) showed that members are likely to retire from politics when they think they will lose due to adverse electoral conditions like bad year for their president's party, scandal, redistricting, and marginal district. Members also retire out due to age and its accompanying health and energy concerns and years of service as members seek to do something else. Surprisingly, his paper also showed that the financial strains of serving in congress leads members to retire as they seek higher paying jobs to make up for having two residences and meeting educational and other expenses for their families.

Members decide to run for higher office if they are from a small state, their is an open seat for the US Senate or governor's mansion, redistricting forces them from their congressional seat, His paper also found that older and more senior members are also more likely to run for higher office. This indicates that the more experienced and presumably more skilled members run for higher office which should produce better governing in the US Senate and Governor's Mansions.

Overall, the results indicate that most retirement is strategic or voluntary. This calls into question the responsiveness of congress because members retire when they choose to and not when the public may want to change direction in policy. This also indicates that the status quo is advantaged and attempts to enact change will be very difficult. On the brighter side though, safe incumbents are also more likely to withstand electoralpressure which allows them potentially deliberate more dispassionately and to pass politically difficult legislation that is necessary to improve the country.

Dr. Evans, who received spent six years in graduate school at the University of Colorado where he received his Ph.D., was also reminded how beautiful the Rocky Mountains really are and was glad that he got to talk to some old friends that he had not seen in quite a while.