Since 1980, less than 30 percent of politicians running again in Iranian parliamentary elections retained their seats. Compare that to more than 90 percent of incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.K. House of Commons who were reelected over the same period. How is this possible? How can it be harder to get reelected in an authoritarian state like Iran than in a developed democracy like the United States?
Not all incumbent members of parliament (MPs) in Iran are destined to be voted out. In fact, some MPs have stayed in office since they were elected in the early 1980s. The two factors that explain success are surprisingly similar to those that matter for elections in developed democracies.
The first is money — specifically how much MPs have been able to spend on their districts in the years preceding an election. The second is electoral law — specifically how visible incumbents are to their constituents and how much credit or blame voters can assign them for their performance in office. This is again fairly intuitive: rules that favor local accountability lead to personal connections between voters and politicians, helping these incumbents maintain their seats in parliament or congress.
In any democracy, these findings may not be surprising, but context here is key: The fact that money or electoral rules have anything to do with winning elections in Iran is notable