Sabatos Crystal Ball

Happy Trails: The Muted Effect of House Retirements

Kyle Kondik, House Editor, U.Va. Center for Politics February 9th, 2012


Generally speaking, if members of the U.S. House of Representatives want to keep their seats, voters are happy to oblige: since the end of World War II, the lowest reelection rate for incumbent House members was 79.3% in 1948, which was a huge Democratic wave year.

But those figures don’t include members who decide to leave office voluntarily: Some retire because of age; some retire to avoid certain defeat; and others retire because — perish the thought — they are tired of being a part of the United States’ dysfunctional government.

Tuesday’s announcement by Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) brings the number of retiring members to 35 during this cycle, according to Roll Call’s helpful list. That already exceeds the postwar average of 34 retirements per House cycle, according to Vital Statistics on American Politics. Vital Statistics’ historical count does not include members who resigned before the end of their term; six members have resigned so far this cycle, bringing the total number of retirements to 41: 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans. And, almost assuredly, the list of retirees will grow.

Many members are retiring from seats that their parties are virtually guaranteed to keep. But some exits, like that of Blue Dog Democrat leader Rep. Heath Shuler (NC), will make it easier for the other party, in this case the Republicans, to capture the seat. Ultimately, the retirements so far have hit Democrats a little bit harder than Republicans; Team Blue is weakened in a handful of districts where the exit of predominately conservative members boosts Republican chances. Republican retirements do also open a few opportunities for Democrats, though those opportunities aren’t quite as obvious.

So far, the overall effect of these House retirements could help Republicans net a few open seats next November. That could be decisive if there is a very close race for the House, but it’s also not a huge, added advantage for the GOP. Nor are those potential gains anywhere near guaranteed.

A district-by-district analysis follows; members are listed alphabetically and are separated into four categories: members retiring at the end of the year; members who are retiring to run for the Senate; members who are retiring to run for offices other than the Senate; and members who have resigned from the House already.

House members retiring at end of year

Retiring to run for Senate

Retiring to run for other office

Already resigned


In the end, these retirements change the calculus in some seats, but, as should be clear from the seat-by-seat analysis, very few of them make a dramatic impact on the likely outcome of individual races.