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US House Tenure Varies Wildly Across the 50 States Throughout History

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U.S. Representatives from western states serve an average of 2.9 years longer than those from northeastern states throughout history

ushouseseal10.pngAlready four-dozen U.S. Representatives who were sworn in at the beginning of the 112th Congress will not be back in the nation's lower legislative chamber on January 2013 when the next Congress convenes - due to resignations, retirement, primary losses, death, or deciding to seek another office.

With that number bound to grow substantially in the coming months due to more incumbent-versus-incumbent matchups as well as several other members likely to lose in the general election due to redistricting and a strong anti-incumbent sentiment in the electorate, it is certain that the 113th Congress will look quite different than the 112th.

High turnover in the U.S. House in back-to-back cycles is not unusual, but neither are periods of relative stability in its membership.

However, the amount of turnover in the House has varied quite significantly from state to state across history, with the difference between the longest and shortest average state delegation U.S. House tenures at nearly 10 years.

A Smart Politics review of the tenures of the more than 10,700 U.S. Representatives who have served since 1789 finds that the average length of service is just shy of 3.5 terms.

According to data constructed by Smart Politics from information provided in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, there have been 10,758 individuals who have served in the House across the 50 states, at an average length of 3.39 terms per member, or approximately 6.8 years.

Alaska leads the way with an average of 6.75 terms - buoyed by the nearly 40 years of service by its current at-large representative, Republican Don Young.

Alaska's representatives have served an average of 9.7 years longer (13.5 years) than bottom-ranking Delaware (3.8 years, 1.89 terms).

With its 62 U.S. representatives who have served the state throughout history, Delaware's House members have tallied an average of just 1.89 terms since statehood.

Texas comes in second and is tops among states in the southern region with a 5.74-term average.

A total of 250 individuals have served the Lone Star State across the 1,434 seats that it has been allotted across 80 election cycles.

Texas saw its delegation to the House double from the 1900 (16 seats) to the 2000 (32 seats) Censuses.

Two other states that, like Texas, witnessed a population explosion in the 20th Century come next on the list with Florida at #3 (5.25 term average) and California at #4 (5.13 terms).

Rounding out the Top 10 are Arizona at #5 (4.74 terms), Washington at #6 (4.71 terms), Oklahoma at #7 (4.38 terms), Hawaii at #8 (4.33 terms), Arkansas at #9 (4.27 terms) and Minnesota at #10 (4.26 terms).

Northeastern Region

The highest ranking state from the northeast is Massachusetts at #26 with its U.S. House members serving an average of 3.48 terms.

In general, states with the shortest average length of service for its U.S. Representatives come from the northeast, with most among the oldest in the nation: New Hampshire at #49 (2.27 terms), Maine at #48 (2.47), New York at #47 (2.64), Vermont at #45 (2.78), Connecticut at #43 (2.79), and Pennsylvania at #42 (2.85).

For many of these northeastern states, service of its members was cut short due to reapportionment, with Pennsylvania losing 17 seats through the 2010 cycle from its peak of 36 and New York shedding 16 seats from its peak of 45.

Overall, representatives from states in the northeastern region have served an average of just 2.85 terms, compared to 4.43 terms for the Western region, 3.66 terms for the South, and 3.55 terms for the Midwest.

Average Length of Service for U.S. Representatives by Region, 1789-Present

Region
Seats*
# Reps
Ave. Terms
West
3,510
792
4.43
South
12,122
3,314
3.66
Midwest
9,830
2,771
3.55
Northeast
11,056
3,881
2.85
* Calculated by the total of number seats allotted to each state in the region for each election cycle. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

Western Region

Meanwhile, representatives from newer, western states tend to have longer average tenures, as these states have generally grown in population and not lost members due to reapportionment.

Six western states rank among the Top 15 with Alaska at #1, California at #4, Arizona at #5, Washington at #6, Hawaii at #8, and Colorado at #14.

The glaring exception to this rule is Nevada, which comes in at #46 - the lowest ranking Western state with Montana the second lowest at #37.

The Silver State's 35 U.S. Representatives since statehood have served an average of just 2.71 terms.

Nevada began with eight different individuals representing the state in the lower legislative chamber across the first 11 election cycles from 1864 to 1882.

Nevada also had a stretch with five different at-large representatives in the House during a five-cycle period spanning the elections of 1940 to 1948 (Democrat James Scrugham, Democrat Maurice Sullivan, Democrat Berkeley Bunker, Republican Charles Russell, and Democrat Walter Baring).

Midwest Region

Minnesota is tops in the Midwest at 4.26 terms per member - just ahead of Michigan at #11 (4.16) and Wisconsin at #12 (4.04).

The Gopher State recently saw the departure from its delegation of 18-term DFL U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar - defeated in 2010 by Republican Chip Cravaack.

Other long-serving Minnesota U.S. Representatives over the years that beefed up its tenure average include 16-term Republicans Harold Knutson (1916-1946) and August Andresen (1924-1930, 1934-1956) and 14-term DFLer Martin Sabo (1978-2004).

Michigan's standing on the list is bolstered by having two of the Top 10 longest-serving U.S. Representatives in the history of the chamber in Democrats John Dingell (#1, 56+ years) and John Conyers (#7, 47+ years).

The lowest ranking state from the Midwest is Nebraska at #40 with an average of 3.05 terms per U.S. House member with Ohio right ahead at #39 and 3.10).

Southern Region

Tenure in the U.S. House among the nation's 16 southern states is a mixed bag.

Five states appear in the Top 15: Texas at #2, Florida at #3, Oklahoma at #7, Arkansas at #9, and Mississippi at #13.

Meanwhile, three states rank in the Bottom 10: Kentucky at #41 and the south Atlantic states of Maryland at #43 and Delaware at #50.

With the exception of West Virginia (at #30), the older southern states fall toward the bottom of the historical average tenure list, with the younger states in the upper half.

Average Length of Service for U.S. Representatives by State, 1789-Present

Rank
State
Region
Statehood
Seats*
# Rep
Terms
1
Alaska
West
1959
27
4
6.75
2
Texas
South
1845
1,434
250
5.74
3
Florida
South
1845
661
126
5.25
4
California
West
1850
1,785
348
5.13
5
Arizona
West
1912
166
35
4.74
6
Washington
West
1889
372
79
4.71
7
Oklahoma
South
1907
355
81
4.38
8
Hawaii
West
1959
52
12
4.33
9
Arkansas
South
1836
406
95
4.27
10
Minnesota
Midwest
1858
571
134
4.26
11
Michigan
Midwest
1837
1,114
268
4.16
12
Wisconsin
Midwest
1848
728
180
4.04
13
Mississippi
South
1817
508
127
4.00
14
Colorado
West
1876
274
69
3.97
15
Illinois
Midwest
1818
1,807
463
3.90
16
Alabama
South
1819
708
184
3.85
17
Oregon
West
1859
237
62
3.82
17
North Dakota
Midwest
1889
107
28
3.82
19
Louisiana
South
1812
604
164
3.68
20
Kansas
Midwest
1861
427
118
3.62
21
North Carolina
South
1789
1,159
326
3.56
22
Tennessee
South
1796
950
268
3.54
22
Georgia
South
1788
984
278
3.54
24
Iowa
Midwest
1846
638
181
3.52
24
New Mexico
West
1912
102
29
3.52
26
Massachusetts
Northeast
1788
1,444
415
3.48
27
Wyoming
West
1890
62
18
3.44
27
Utah
West
1896
124
36
3.44
29
New Jersey
Northeast
1787
1,068
313
3.41
30
West Virginia
South
1863
340
100
3.40
31
Idaho
West
1890
112
33
3.39
31
Virginia
South
1788
1,401
413
3.39
33
South Carolina
South
1788
726
218
3.33
34
South Dakota
Midwest
1889
119
36
3.31
35
Missouri
Midwest
1821
991
303
3.27
36
Indiana
Midwest
1816
1,029
317
3.25
37
Montana
West
1889
102
32
3.19
38
Rhode Island
Northeast
1790
232
73
3.18
39
Ohio
Midwest
1803
2,015
650
3.10
40
Nebraska
Midwest
1867
284
93
3.05
41
Kentucky
South
1792
982
340
2.89
42
Pennsylvania
Northeast
1787
2,926
1,026
2.85
43
Maryland
South
1788
787
282
2.79
43
Connecticut
Northeast
1788
605
217
2.79
45
Vermont
Northeast
1791
267
96
2.78
46
Nevada
West
1864
95
35
2.71
47
New York
Northeast
1788
3,797
1,439
2.64
48
Maine
Northeast
1820
386
156
2.47
49
New Hampshire
Northeast
1788
331
146
2.27
50
Delaware
South
1787
117
62
1.89
 
Total
 
 
36,518
10,758
3.39
* Calculated by the total of number seats allotted to each state each election cycle. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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