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American Government. U.S. Congressional Elections & Participation. Congressional Elections. Elections for the U.S. Congress in particular may be as competitive and nearly as important as the presidential campaign.

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american government

American Government

U.S. Congressional Elections &

Participation

congressional elections
Congressional Elections
  • Elections for the U.S. Congress in particular may be as competitive and nearly as important as the presidential campaign.
  • The congressional elections are important because of the central role the Congress plays in making policy. Unlike a parliamentary system, the American system is one of separate powers between Congress and the president. All laws are written in and must be passed by the Congress.
  • Also as opposed to parliamentary systems, party discipline is often less strictly observed. Members of Congress are free to vote on policies as they think best, including what they think best for winning their own reelection.
  • As a result, congressional leaders must put together a winning coalition one member at a time, rather than count on unified support from highly disciplined parties, thus making every congressional victory or defeat important for both parties.
u s congressional elections nuts bolts
U.S. Congressional Elections: Nuts & Bolts
  • The House and the Senate have nearly equal powers, but their means of election are quite different. The Founders of the American Republic intended members of the House to be close to the public, reflecting its wishes and ambitions most faithfully in legislating.
  • Therefore, the Founders designed the House to be relatively large and to have frequent (two-year) elections. Originally, a two-year term was considered by some to be too long.
  • Today, it is more common to be concerned that frequent election means that incumbents are always running for reelection and therefore seldom consider what is best for the nation, only what is best for their electoral fortunes.
u s fptp first past the post
U.S. & FPTP “First Past the Post”
  • Section II of Article 1 of the Constitution states "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the People of the several States.... Representatives...shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers."
  • The Constitution did not, however, specify the manner in which representatives are to be apportioned -- only that there be a certain number of representatives from each state. The framers of the early government of the United States also did not prescribe the means of electing representatives.
smds congress
SMDs & Congress
  • This arrangement changed with an apportionment act in 1842 (5 Stat. 491). This act set the House membership at 223 members and contained a requirement for single-member districts.
  • It stated that representatives "should be elected by districts composed of contiguous territory equal in number to the number of representatives to which said state may be entitled, no one district electing more than one representative."
  • Thus single-member districts were officially instituted by Congress.
smd advantages
SMD Advantages
  • provide voters with strong constituency representation because each voter has a single, easily identifiable, district representative
  • encourage constituency service by providing voters with an easily identifiable "ombudsman"
  • maximize accountability because a single representative can be held responsible and can be re-elected or defeated in the next election
  • ensure geographic representation.
democracy in the world pr systems
Democracy in the World: PR Systems
  • Proportional representation, also known as full representation, is an electoral system in which the overall votes are reflected in the overall outcome of the body or bodies of representatives
  • Proportional representation involves a close match between the percentage of votes that political parties receive and the number of seats they obtain in legislative assemblies.
proportional voting votes seats
Proportional Voting: Votes & Seats

TABLE 1: A 100 SEAT LEGISLATURE ELECTION

senate house elections
Senate & House Elections
  • Each House seat represents a geographic constituency, and every member is elected from a unique, or "single-member," district by plurality rule; that is, the candidate with most votes wins election.
  • Each of the 50 states is assured of at least one seat in the House, with the rest allocated to the states by population. Alaska, for example, has a very small population and therefore holds only one seat in the House. California is the largest state and currently holds 53 seats.
  • The Senate was designed to represent the states and, in fact, senators were originally selected by state legislatures. It was not until passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1913 that senators were directly elected by their state's voters.
  • Every state has two senators elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the Senate seats up for reelection every two years. In effect, then, senators are chosen by plurality vote of the electorate, with a state serving as a single-member district
two party system
Two Party System
  • Elections that are decided by plurality rule, especially from single-member districts, are very likely to result in a system with exactly two major political parties.
  • This is so because any third-party candidate has very little chance of winning.
  • Voters prefer to avoid "wasting" their votes on what they consider to be hopeless campaigns, and candidates who want to win election therefore avoid affiliation with any hopeless party.
duverger s law
Duverger’s Law
  • Duverger's Law is a principle which asserts that a first-past-the-post election system naturally leads to a two-party system.
  • It is important to realize Duverger's law suggests a nexus between a party system and an electoral system - with a proportional representation (PR) system creating the electoral conditions necessary to foster party development and a FPTP system marginalizing many smaller - single issue - political parties.
congressional elections votes seats 2004
Congressional Elections Votes / Seats 2004

1 Vacancy due to death of Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii.

smd representation bias solutions
SMD Representation Bias: Solutions?
  • Multi-member Separate Voting districting versus single member districts
  • Multi-member Separate Voting – More is better?
    • All candidates run in one big district, each voter votes in each race
    • Example: City with 4 At Large City Council seats: Vote for 4 seats (with candidates running for an individual seat rather than any of the seats)
    • Ex 1 (SMD). Candidate A runs for Seat 1 while Candidate C runs for Seat 2 and you vote for each separately
    • Ex 2 (MMSD). Vote for Candidate A on Seat 1 and vote for Candidate C on Seat 2 where each candidate gets a plurality vote.
    • Assume 60% D and 40% R and these voters all vote straight party district. What will happen:
more isn t necessarily better
More isn’t Necessarily Better
  • Multi-member districts have the same bias that single member districts do.
  • The Democrats win every seat. Multi-member Separate Voting tends to favor the majority dramatically.
possible future mmcv
Possible Future: MMCV

Multi-Member Cumulative Voting

  • As a cure to the under-representation of various groups in the American system, other kinds of electoral systems are available.
  • MMCV is a variant of proportional voting.
  • Recall the example of the 4 City Council Seats
    • One open race for all the seats, where any number of people can run
    • Voters may cast a total of Four Votes
    • NEW: Votes can be distributed however the voter wishes to (you can give all 4 votes to 1 candidate, divide it out among two candidates equally, 1 vote for four different candidates, etc.)
    • The Top Four Vote Getters Win.
mmcv diversity
MMCV: Diversity
  • Result? More diversity in terms of who gets elected. Highly motivated groups can strategically vote to get representation (they can mass all 4 votes of each voter with one candidate thus, despite the fact they don’t have a majority in the district, they are able to get a representative).
  • This isn’t just theory: Alabama Chilton County has MMCV.
    • 40% Black 60% White, 55% D 45% R
    • The Chilton County Commission was under SMD
    • The result then was all 5 commissioners were white and Democrats.
    • They went to MMCV
    • They now have a black member and two Republicans.
voting in perspective
Voting in Perspective
  • Why is this important? The Courts may be considering forcing MMCV in place of SMD.
    • Side-effects: increases the costs of voting (the task of voting is much more difficult).
    • With Congress, district elections would be state-wide (this is a much more complicated election system) and that presents Constitutional problems.
    • Local issues would necessarily take a blow in favor of state-wide issues (since congressman would be elected state-wide rather than locally)
factors in congressional elections
Factors in Congressional Elections
  • Throughout most of U.S. history, congressional elections were "party centered." Because most voters had long-term loyalties toward one political party or the other, they tended to cast their votes along party lines.
  • Members of Congress were often reelected, sometimes holding their position for decades, because a majority of their constituents supported their party. Their efforts as individual incumbents often only marginally added to or subtracted from their support.
  • This is REGULAR PARTY VOTING.
  • In more recent years, candidates' personalities and issues have emerged as forces that add to the impact of party loyalties.
  • Elections have become: CANDIDATE-CENTERED
the incumbency advantage
The Incumbency Advantage
  • Candidate-centered voting is a major advantage to incumbent members of Congress.
  • Incumbents, in general, receive far more exposure on television and in newspapers than those challenging them.
  • With greater media exposure and substantial influence over public policy, incumbents are also able to raise far greater sums of money with which to campaign.
  • For these reasons and more, incumbents who run for reelection are very likely to win.
  • In 2002, 398 House members ran for reelection, and only 16 were defeated, while a mere three out of 26 senators running for reelection lost. With a reelection rate of 88 percent for the Senate and 96 percent for the House, it is fair to say that congressional elections are not just candidate centered but incumbent centered as well.
incumbency
Incumbency
  • Incumbency advantages involves the ability of congressman to make themselves popular with the voters in their district. Thus they can insulate themselves from regular party voting.
  • Regular party voting is voting your partisan identification.
  • A congressman that makes himself personally popular doesn’t have to worry about the ebb and flow of popularity for Democrats or Republicans as a whole.
  • Thus they can insulate themselves from challengers.
assessing the incumbency advantage
Assessing the Incumbency Advantage
  • Most incumbents who run for re-election get reelected. Since WWII, 92% of incumbents who ran for reelection got reelected.
  • The incumbency advantage can be a bit overstated, though.
    • a. Not much competition.
    • b. Incumbents who are vulnerable don’t have to run for reelection. The vulnerable incumbent can (and often do) retire. Thus they self-select out of reelection.
causes of incumbency advantage
Causes of Incumbency Advantage
  • Experience – an incumbent by definition is experienced. He or she has already won at least one election. They have an inkling on what to do to get elected.
  • Franking – congressional privilege that allows congresspersons to send out mail to their constituents FOR FREE. It’s in the Constitution. Challengers don’t get to send out free mail to the district or state.
  • Free Media – local media like covering congressman. Furthermore, they can go on national TV shows, they have an office in Washington that can create media releases.
  • Pork – congressman bring federal spending into their local areas to benefit the district (which thus increases goodwill in the district for you). Naturally challengers can’t do this.
  • Casework – when individual constituents have a problem and call their congressman. It’s an easy, non-controversial way of making voters happy. People helped (no matter what party) will be more likely to vote for him and they will tell their friends. A large proportion of their staff is dedicated to doing casework.
  • Campaign finance – the ability to raise money. They have a big advantage over challengers because they are already in congress with a vote over legislation and thus interest groups will attempt to influence them (whatever their party).
ultimate cause of i a
Ultimate Cause of I.A.
  • Bottom Line Cause: Scaring away quality challengers.
  • The average challenger is not necessarily (not even likely to be) the best candidate available in the district.
  • Why are there no quality challengers?
  • Because incumbents are very good at making themselves look invulnerable – thus true and quality challengers don’t run loosing campaigns (they will run somewhere else). It is no coincidence that when an incumbent retires or dies that a number of individuals (quality) run for the office.
  • Sometimes a quality challenger does come out of the woodworks and runs…and the incumbent does much worse (he may even loose). Ex. Richard Hardy, 1992.
districts redistricting
Districts & Redistricting
  • As mentioned earlier, House members run in ‘districts.’ These districts have their geographical boundaries set, generally, every 10 years by the state legislature and based on the decennial census.
  • Single Member Districts (SMDs) are districts where only one representative will ‘win’ election and represent that district.
redistricting
Redistricting
  • Redistricting: the process of redrawing district lines.
  • Politics of Redistricting - Gerrymandering: Drawing district lines to advantage a particular group and/or disadvantage a particular group.
  • There are 2 kinds of gerrymandering:
    • 1. Packing – place all the members of the other party into one district.
    • 2. Dilution – spread out the members of the other party so that they don’t have enough votes to win any district, though they have a block of voters in each district.
gerrymandering urban vs rural
Gerrymandering: Urban vs. Rural
  • The folks in the rural districts wanted to ‘disadvantage’ the urban districts (the rural leadership controlled the state legislatures).
  • This was accomplished by having one really BIG district (in terms of population) with all the urban voters ‘packed’ into it while the rest of the state consisted of numerous equal size (geographically) but smaller (population) rural districts.
  • In the 1960’s, the Supreme Court decided this sort of district packing was held to be illegal. The Key Case was: Baker v. Carr.
  • Baker v. Carr: established the principle of one man, one vote. Equal voting power should be distributed across a population equally.
  • SC explicitly made an exception for the United States Senate.
gerrymandering party vs racial
Gerrymandering: Party vs. Racial
  • Party vs. Minority Discrimination
    • Gerrymandering for the purposes of ‘party’ is legal.
    • Gerrymandering for the purposes of ‘racial’ discrimination is illegal.
  • The distinction: racial characteristics are easily identified…while party is hard to define and not a necessarily reliable distinction.
  • Gerrymandering IV: Affirmative Action
    • Blacks are ‘represented’ in Congress disproportionate to their numbers in the population.
    • In the early 1990’s a new Voting Rights Act was passed that allowed gerrymandering for the purpose of affirmative action.