The incumbent, in politics, is the current holder of a political office . For example, in the 2004 Russian presidential election, Vladimir Putin was the incumbent, because he was the current president.
In many jurisdictions and situations, incumbents have structural advantages over challengers during elections. The timing of elections may be determined by the incumbent instead of on a set schedule. For most political offices, the incumbent often has greater name recognition due to their previous work in the office. Incumbents also have easier access to campaign finance and other government resources (such as the franking privilege) that can be indirectly used to boost a campaign. An election (especially for a legislature) in which no incumbent is running is often called an open seat; because of the lack of incumbency advantage, these are often amongst the most hotly-contested races in any election.
Incumbency is an especially powerful force within political parties. In the United States, incumbents traditionally win their party's nomination to run for office. Unseating an incumbent president, senator or other figure during a primary election is very difficult. In particular, barring major scandal or controversy, about 90% of congressional incumbents win re-election to their seats. However, shifts in congressional districts due to reapportionment or other longer-term factors may make it more or less likely for an incumbent to win re-election over time. For example, a Democratic incumbent in historically conservative Texas would have a less likely chance of winning than a Democratic incumbent in liberal New York City, because Texas has shifted away from the Democratic party in terms of voting.
In countries such as Canada, where nomination systems are also used, it is also difficult to remove an incumbent within the party.
In the British Westminster system, an incumbent Member of Parliament is the person who currently represents the constituency in Parliament.
However, there exist scenarios in which the incumbency factor itself leads to the downfall of the incumbent. Popularly known as the anti-incumbency factor, situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven himself not worthy of office during his tenure and the challenger demonstrates this fact to the voters. An anti-incumbency factor can also be responsible for bringing down incumbents who have been in office for many successive terms in spite of performance indicators, simply because the voters are convinced by the challenger of a need for change.