Congress and representation:elections The Logic of American Politics Chapter Six: Congress
Members of Congress as Agents • The Constitution set up members of the House of Representatives as agents of the people • There are several mechanisms included in the Constitution for keeping these agents in check. These include: • Qualifications for office • 2 year terms; if want to stay in office, must run again and win. • Enumerated powers
Congressional Districts • After the first census in 1790, each state was allotted one House seat for every 33,000 inhabitants for a total of 105 seats. • Total membership was capped at 435 in 1911 when House leaders concluded that further growth would impede the House’s work. • However, the size of each state’s delegation may change after each census as state/region populations shift.
Congressional Districts • Federal law apportions House seats among states after each census, setting the number of congressional districts in each state • Each state then draws the lines that divide its territory into the requisite number of districts. • This allows ample opportunities for politics to enter into redistricting.
Redistricting and the Law • If one party controls the legislature and the governorship, it may attempt to draw lines to favor its own candidates. This is called gerrymandering. • The constitutionality of this practice has been challenged in court, but without great success. • In Davis v. Bandemer (1986), the Court held that a gerrymander would be unconstitutional if it were too unfair to one of the parties
Redistricting and the Law • In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that districts must have equal populations. • In Thornburg v. Gingles (1986) the Court ruled that district lines may not dilute minority representation but they also cannot be drawn with race as the predominant consideration. • Within these limits states can draw districts pretty much as they please.
Redistricting and the Law • The Thornburg decision required that legislative district lines not discriminate, even unintentionally, against racial minorities.
Redistricting and the Law • North Carolina legislators carved out two majority African American districts that eventually came before the Court. • The Court decided in 1993 that such irregular districts went too far and in 1995 that districts could not be drawn solely to benefit one race.
Election of Senators • The 50 Senate constituencies – entire states – do not change boundaries with each census but they do vary greatly in size of population. • Senators in CA – app. 34 million people. • Senators in WY – app. 494,000 people. • In contrast, the average U.S. House member represents app. 647,000 people.
Election of Senators • Nine largest states are home to 51 percent of total U.S. population. • Leads to unequal representation. Does this matter?
Members of Congress as Agents • The Constitution initially set up Senators as agents of the states or state legislatures • Two Senators per state • Chosen by state legislatures • The Seventeenth Amendment changed part of that, making Senators popularly elected. • Senators then became, to a greater extent than before, direct agents of the people.
Term Length • Differences in term length affect the characters of the chambers. • A two year term for the House was a compromise between the annual elections advocated by many delegates and the three year term proposed by James Madison. • A short tenure would keep this chamber close to the people. • The result: members constantly running for reelection and less time to “learn the ropes” • The Senate, with its 6 year terms, would be more insulated (and hopefully stable and dispassionate) from momentary shifts in the public mood by virtue of a longer term (in addition to their selection by state legislatures). • Senators have a longer time horizon, can afford to take time to learn the job without pressure of running for office.
Qualifications for Office Holding • Many state constitutions included property-holding and religious qualifications for holding office. • The Framers explicitly rejected this for offices in the national government. • They also considered and rejected a proposal to forbid reelection after serving a term. • The Articles of Confederation had included a reelection restriction, but the Framers thought it had weakened Congress by depriving it of some of its most effective members.
Qualifications for Office Holding • 25 years old to serve in the House, 30 years in the Senate • Framers intended for the Senate to be slightly older and wiser • Members of the House must be citizens of the United States for at least 7 years and members of the Senate must be citizens at least 9 years. • Both must, when elected, reside in the state that elects them.
Who Serves in Congress? • Congressional members are not “representative” of the public at large. • Most are college graduates (39% have law degrees). • Many have business backgrounds, but most come from professional fields in general. • Only a few have blue collar backgrounds. • Most held prior elected office.
Who Serves in Congress? • Congress remains overwhelmingly white and male. This may occur because white males still predominate in the lower-level public offices and private careers that are the most common steppingstones to Congress. • Women and racial minorities continue to be underrepresented (see Figures 6-2 and 6-3). Does this make a difference?
The Electoral System • Two important aspects of the electoral system have an important effect on the electoral politics of Congress: • Separate election of members of Congress and presidents • Chosen through plurality vote
Separate Elections • In contrast to the separate elections of the President and Congress in the United States, countries that employ parliamentary systems elect a legislature and that legislature then selects a chief executive, often called the prime minister. • In the system used here, both the President and Congress are directly elected, and therefore, directly responsible to the people. • In parliamentary systems, the chief executive is the agent of parliament who chooses him or her. • In the United States, it is easy to have a president of a different party than the party with the majority of seats in the House of Representatives or Senate. • In parliamentary systems, the president is typically of the same party as that which controls the most seats in parliament.
National Politics in Congressional Elections • Still, national forces have always been a component of congressional election politics and remain important. • In general, congressional candidates are advantaged when their presidential candidate wins. • Today, presidents may have shorter “coattails” than they did in the nineteenth century, but they are still significant.
National Politics in Congressional Elections • In midterm elections the president's party almost always loses congressional seats, but the size of its losses depends in part on the performance of the national economy and the president. • Losses are fewer if the economy is strong and the president is popular.
Representation versus Responsibility • Different electoral processes produce different forms of representation: • Party centered – here legislators represent citizens by carrying out the policies promised by the party and are held responsible for their party's performance in governing. So they work to ensure the success of the party in government. • Candidate centered – here there is more incentive to be individually responsive rather than collectively responsible.
Representation versus Responsibility • Single member districts with plurality vote lend themselves to candidate centered politics and high district responsiveness. • Multi-member districts with proportional representation, common in parliamentary systems, lend themselves to more party centered politics and collective responsibility.
The Advantages of Incumbency • There was a decline in party loyalty among voters. • This gave incumbents a chance to win votes that once would have gone routinely to the other party's candidate. • When incumbents realized their advantage, they sought to increase it by voting to give themselves greater resources for serving their districts. • More money for staff, travel, local offices, and communications.
The Advantages of Incumbency • Their service orientation has been one of the reasons for their high return rate to office. So why are incumbents so worried about reelection all the time?
Because… • The incumbency advantage does not accrue automatically to officeholders • Incumbents win reelection because they work so hard at it. • They work to discourage opponents • They are highly responsive to their constituencies
The Incumbency Advantage • Members of Congress solicit and process casework (requests from constituents for information and help in dealing with government agencies).
The Incumbency Advantage • Although Senators engage in many of the same constituency-building activities, they have not been as successful in keeping their jobs as members of the House. • Senators are roughly three times more likely to lose their seats than House incumbents. • Why?
The Senate Disadvantage • States more populous and diverse than congressional districts -- most senators unable to develop the personal ties to constituents that House members do. • States more than districts have balanced party competition. • Senate races attract more experienced, politically talented, well-financed challengers. • Senators more readily associated with controversial and divisive issues. • States have media markets that make it easier for challengers to get their message out.
Mahew on the Electoral Connection • Assumes members of Congress’ primary goal is re-election • 3 behaviors follow from that: • Advertising • Credit claiming • Position taking
Congress and Electoral Politics • The modern Congress is organized to serve the goals of its members. • Primary goal: Keep their jobs • A career in Congress depends on getting elected and reelected again and again. • Members may have noble policy goals but to achieve them, they must remain in office.
The Electoral Logic of Congressional Members • A preoccupation with reelection can affect the types of public policy passed. • Members of Congress may promote narrowly targeted programs, projects, or tax breaks for constituents without worrying about the impacts of such measures on spending or revenues. • Here’s the logic…
Electoral Logic and Laws Costs Concentrated Diffuse Concentrated Diffuse Benefits
Electoral Logic and Laws • Members often help each other get reelected through passing policies with concentrated benefits. • We see this occur in logrolling – the legislative practice in which members of Congress agree to reciprocally support each other's vote-gaining projects or tax breaks, called pork barrel legislation.
Balancing the Needs of the Many with the Needs of the Few • Electoral incentives make legislators hesitant to impose direct costs on identifiable groups in order to produce greater but more diffuse benefits to all citizens. • At times congressional majorities have been able to solve this dilemma by • Delegating authority to the executive branch or state governments • Framing their choice in a way that highlights credit for the general benefits while minimizing individual responsibility for the specific costs
Balancing the Needs of the Many with the Needs of the Few • Members must seek to make the electoral payoffs from disregarding special interests to benefit a broader public outweigh the costs. • For this to work, the issue must be important to many voters.