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Congress. Theories of Representation. Today. Bare-bones basics of Congress What does it mean to “represent” someone (or some group) politically? What factors determine who represents us in Congress?. House 435 Representatives 1 per geographic district 2 year terms. Senate 100 Senators

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Theories of Representation

  • Bare-bones basics of Congress
  • What does it mean to “represent” someone (or some group) politically?
  • What factors determine who represents us in Congress?
bicameral legislature

435 Representatives

1 per geographic district

2 year terms


100 Senators

2 per state

6 year terms

Bicameral Legislature
business of congress
Business of Congress
  • A Day in the House of Reps
what does representation mean
What Does Representation Mean?
  • “Represent”: to act in place of or on behalf of someone else
  • “Constituency”: the group on whose behalf the legislator acts
three big questions about representation
Three Big Questions About Representation
  • Does the idea of democratic representation allow legislators to do what is good for us, rather than what we want?
    • Should members of Congress serve as “delegates” or as “trustees”?
  • Whose “best interests” matter?
  • Is “agency representation” enough, or is “sociological representation” necessary?
theories of representation delegate v trustee
Theories of Representation: Delegate v. Trustee
  • Delegate: Someone who acts in accordance with our wishes
  • Trustee: Someone who acts to best protect our interests (even if we’re not happy with it)
    • Example: Balancing the budget and raising taxes
theories of representation the importance of constituency
Theories of Representation:The Importance of “Constituency”
  • If legislators are acting in our best interests, who has standing?
    • Only voters in the legislator’s district?
    • Everyone in the legislator’s district, both parties, voters and non-voters?
    • The nation as a whole?
    • Example: “pork barrel legislation”
theories of representation descriptive v substantive
Theories of Representation: Descriptive v. Substantive
  • Ways of creating “policy congruence” (delegate representation)
  • Descriptive
    • Shared background and experience = shared political preferences
  • Substantive (Agency)
    • Electoral accountability is enough to force policy congruence
But . . .
  • Is electoral pressure enough to force policy congruence, or is descriptive representation necessary for true representation?
  • Are there benefits to descriptive representation that extend beyond policy outcomes?
who represents us important factors to remember
Who Represents Us: Important Factors to Remember
  • Who runs
    • Access to money
    • Access to support
    • Time and “social capital”
  • Incumbency advantage
    • Money
    • Name recognition and constituency service
    • Controversy over term limits – U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton
  • Redistricting
    • The art of the “gerrymander”
  • When and why
    • Every 10 years (now – Baker v. Carr) – following REAPPORTIONMENT
    • In response to legal challenges
  • How it’s done
    • Political gerrymandering – favoring the party in power in the state legislature
    • Racial gerrymandering – efforts to increase or limit the influence of racial minorities
racial gerrymandering
Racial Gerrymandering
  • “Cracking”
    • Drawing district lines so that the minority racial group is diffuse, spread out over many districts, so they have no influence in any one district
  • “Packing”
    • Drawing district lines to that the minority racial group is concentrated into one or two districts, with no influence in any of the others