Document Type

Unpublished Paper

Publication Date



candidate quality, U.S. House elections, strategic quality, personal quality, public service, survey data, electoral security


Political Science


We propose and test the implications of a two-dimensional concept of candidate quality in U.S. House elections. Strategic quality is composed of the skills and resources necessary to wage an effective campaign; personal quality is composed of the characteristics most ordinary citizens value in their leaders and representatives, such as personal integrity and dedication to public service. We employ district informants in studies of the 1998 and 2002 congressional elections to measure these qualities in candidates, and we merge mass survey data with the district informant indicators to assess constituents’ awareness and evaluation of House candidates, and voting choice. We find that awareness tends to be responsive to candidates’ strategic quality, and that incumbent evaluation is remarkably responsive to variation in personal quality, even taking into account the quality of challenger emergence. These and other findings appear to support a more positive view of citizen capacity than is common in the congressional elections literature, especially in light of the electoral security of House incumbents.