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Challenges of reelection

Citizens and representatives

Senators face reelection every six years, and representatives every two. Reelections encourage candidates to focus their publicity efforts at their home states or districts.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14dd1/> Running for reelection can be a grueling process of distant travel and fund-raising which distracts senators and representatives from paying attention to governing, according to some critics<ref name=twsSEPnn876/><ref name=twsSEPnn876>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> although others respond that the process is necessary to keep members of Congress in touch with voters.

two boxes with red dots and blue dots.
In this example, the more even distribution is on the left and the gerrymandering is on the right.

Nevertheless, incumbent members of Congress running for reelection have strong advantages over challengers.<ref name=tws2010Sep11jggha/> They raise more money<ref name="tws02oct205"/> because donors expect incumbents to win, they give their funds to them rather than challengers.<ref name=tws02oct223>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name="tws02oct216"/> And donations are vital for winning elections.<ref name=tws01oct23>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> One critic compared being elected to Congress to receiving life tenure at a university.<ref name="tws02oct216"/> Another advantage for representatives is the practice of gerrymandering.<ref name=tws2010Sep11ii/><ref name=twsSEPnnppoi>{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }}</ref> After each ten-year census, states are allocated representatives based on population, and officials in power can choose how to draw the congressional district boundaries to support candidates from their party. As a result, reelection rates of members of Congress hover around 90 percent,<ref name=incumbent/> causing some critics to accuse them of being a privileged class.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/> Academics such as Princeton's Stephen Macedo have proposed solutions to fix gerrymandering. Both senators and representatives enjoy free mailing privileges called franking privileges.

Expensive campaigns

In 1971, the cost of running for congress in Utah was $70,000<ref name="tws01oct40"/> but costs have climbed.<ref name=tws01oct38>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> The biggest expense is television ads.<ref name=tws01oct22/><ref name=tws02oct216>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name="tws01oct40"/><ref name=tws01oct33>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name="tws01oct32"/> Today's races cost more than a million dollars for a House seat, and six million or more for a Senate seat.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/><ref name="tws01oct22"/><ref name="tws01oct33"/><ref name=DCMacnutsSuperCoolTool04>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}

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|CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws01oct43>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Since fundraising is vital, "members of Congress are forced to spend ever-increasing hours raising money for their re-election."<ref name=tws01oct35>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[dead link] }}</ref>

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has treated campaign contributions as a free speech issue.<ref name="tws01oct38"/> Some see money as a good influence in politics since it "enables candidates to communicate with voters."<ref name="tws01oct38"/> Few members retire from Congress without complaining about how much it costs to campaign for reelection.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/> Critics contend that members of Congress are more likely to attend to the needs of heavy campaign contributors than to ordinary citizens.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/>

Elections are influenced by many variables. Some political scientists speculate there is a coattail effect (when a popular president or party position has the effect of reelecting incumbents who win by "riding on the president's coattails"), although there is some evidence that the coattail effect is irregular and possibly declining since the 1950s.<ref name=tws2010Sep11jggha/> Some districts are so heavily Democratic or Republican that they are called a safe seat; any candidate winning the primary will almost always be elected, and these candidates do not need to spend money on advertising.<ref name=tws30sep13>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws30sep14>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> But some races can be competitive when there is no incumbent. If a seat becomes vacant in an open district, then both parties may spend heavily on advertising in these races; in California in 1992, only four of twenty races for House seats were considered highly competitive.<ref name=tws30sep18>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref>

Television and negative advertising

Since members of Congress must advertise heavily on television, this usually involves negative advertising, which smears an opponent's character without focusing on the issues.<ref name=DCMacnutsSuperCoolTool03>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}

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|CitationClass=news }}</ref> Negative advertising is seen as effective because "the messages tend to stick."<ref name=tws30sep04>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> However, these ads sour the public on the political process in general as most members of Congress seek to avoid blame.<ref name=tws2010Sep11piiu>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> One wrong decision or one damaging television image can mean defeat at the next election, which leads to a culture of risk avoidance, a need to make policy decisions behind closed doors,<ref name=tws2010Sep11piiu/> and concentrating publicity efforts in the members' home districts.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14dd1/>

Public perceptions of Congress

Ad for the Federalist.
The Federalist Papers argued in favor of a strong connection between citizens and their representatives.

Prominent Founding Fathers writing in The Federalist Papers felt that elections were essential to liberty, and that a bond between the people and the representatives was particularly essential<ref name=tws01oct>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> and that "frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured."<ref name="tws01oct"/> In 2009, however, few Americans were familiar with leaders of Congress.<ref name=tws01oct01>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws01oct06>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws01oct18>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> The percentage of Americans eligible to vote who did, in fact, vote was 63% in 1960, but has been falling since, although there was a slight upward trend in the 2008 election.<ref name=DCMacnutsSuperCoolTool05>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}

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|CitationClass=news }}</ref> Public opinion polls asking people if they approve of the job Congress is doing have, in the last few decades, hovered around 25% with some variation.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/><ref name="tws28sep01"/><ref name=tws08oct01>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=DCMacnutsSuperCoolTool01>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}

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|CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=twsSEPnn5454>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws01oct10>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws01oct20>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Scholar Julian Zeliger suggested that the "size, messiness, virtues, and vices that make Congress so interesting also create enormous barriers to our understanding the institution... Unlike the presidency, Congress is difficult to conceptualize."<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14dd3>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Other scholars suggest that despite the criticism, "Congress is a remarkably resilient institution ... its place in the political process is not threatened ... it is rich in resources" and that most members behave ethically.<ref name="tws2010Sep11rtww" /> They contend that "Congress is easy to dislike and often difficult to defend" and this perception is exacerbated because many challengers running for Congress run against Congress, which is an "old form of American politics" that further undermines Congress's reputation with the public:<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/>

The rough-and-tumble world of legislating is not orderly and civil, human frailties too often taint its membership, and legislative outcomes are often frustrating and ineffective ... Still, we are not exaggerating when we say that Congress is essential to American democracy. We would not have survived as a nation without a Congress that represented the diverse interests of our society, conducted a public debate on the major issues, found compromises to resolve conflicts peacefully, and limited the power of our executive, military, and judicial institutions ... The popularity of Congress ebbs and flows with the public's confidence in government generally ... the legislative process is easy to dislike—it often generates political posturing and grandstanding, it necessarily involves compromise, and it often leaves broken promises in its trail. Also, members of Congress often appear self-serving as they pursue their political careers and represent interests and reflect values that are controversial. Scandals, even when they involve a single member, add to the public's frustration with Congress and have contributed to the institution's low ratings in opinion polls.—Smith, Roberts & Wielen<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/>

An additional factor that confounds public perceptions of Congress is that congressional issues are becoming more technical and complex and require expertise in subjects such as science and engineering and economics.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/> As a result, Congress often cedes authority to experts at the executive branch.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14cc/>

In January 2013, the popularity of Congress reached an all-time low, after a survey of voters indicated just 9% of those polled approved of its performance and 85% disapproved.<ref>"Voters prefer cockroaches to Congress" United Press International, January 8, 2013</ref> Since 2011, Gallup poll has reported Congress's approval rating among Americans at 10% or below three times.<ref name="blogs.wsj.com"/><ref name="firstread.nbcnews.com"/> Public opinion of Congress plummeted further to 5% in October 2013 after parts of the U.S. government deemed 'nonessential government' shut down.<ref name=voa5congress>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref>

Smaller states and bigger states

When the Constitution was ratified in 1787, the ratio of the populations of large states to small states was roughly twelve to one. The Connecticut Compromise gave every state, large and small, an equal vote in the Senate.<ref name=tws10janx01>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Since each state has two senators, residents of smaller states have more clout in the Senate than residents of larger states. But since 1787, the population disparity between large and small states has grown; in 2006, for example, California had seventy times the population of Wyoming.<ref name=tws10janx334>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Critics such as constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson have suggested that the population disparity works against residents of large states and causes a steady redistribution of resources from "large states to small states."<ref name=twsSEPnn81>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws10janx09>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=twsSEPnn90>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> However, others argue that the Connecticut compromise was deliberately intended by the Framers to construct the Senate so that each state had equal footing not based on population,<ref name=tws10janx01/> and contend that the result works well on balance.

Members and constituents

A major role for members of Congress is providing services to constituents.<ref>Charles L. Clapp, The Congressman, His Work as He Sees It (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1963), p. 55; cf. pp. 50–55, 64–66, 75–84.</ref> Constituents request assistance with problems.<ref>Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 35 (September 3, 1977): 1855. English, op. cit., pp. 48–49, notes that members will also regularly appear at local events in their home district, and will maintain offices in the home congressional district or state.</ref> Providing services helps members of Congress win votes and elections<ref name=tws2010Sep11ii>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws2010Sep11hh>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref><ref name=tws2010Sep11jj>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> and can make a difference in close races.<ref name=tws2010Sep11kk>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Congressional staff can help citizens navigate government bureaucracies.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14aa/> One academic described the complex intertwined relation between lawmakers and constituents as home style.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14bb>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> :8

Congressional style

One way to categorize lawmakers, according to political scientist Richard Fenno, is by their general motivation:

  1. Reelection. These are lawmakers who "never met a voter they didn't like" and provide excellent constituent services.
  2. Good public policy. Legislators who "burnish a reputation for policy expertise and leadership."
  3. Power in the chamber. Lawmakers who spend serious time along the "rail of the House floor or in the Senate cloakroom ministering to the needs of their colleagues." Famous legislator Henry Clay in the mid-19th century was described as an "issue entrepreneur" who looked for issues to serve his ambitions.<ref name=tws2010Sep11t14bb/>:34

United States Congress sections
Intro  Overview  History  Congress in the United States government  Structure  Procedures of Congress  Congress and the public  Privileges and pay  See also  Notes  References  Further reading  External links  

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