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Congress - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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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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Congress l.jpg


Theories of Representation

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  • Bare-bones basics of Congress

  • What does it mean to “represent” someone (or some group) politically?

  • What factors determine who represents us in Congress?

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435 Representatives

1 per geographic district

2 year terms


100 Senators

2 per state

6 year terms

Bicameral Legislature

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Business of Congress

  • A Day in the House of Reps


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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

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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?

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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

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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”

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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

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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?

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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”

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Redistricting:The Original Gerrymander

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  • When and why

    • Every 10 years (now – Baker v. Carr) – following REAPPORTIONMENT

    • In response to legal challenges

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  • 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

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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

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Redistricting:A Modern Gerrymander

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History of North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District