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Flashcards in 13.2a Representation Deck (14)
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Congressional Elections

Congressional elections take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

All 435 members of the House are up for election every two years.

Senate elections take place every two years, but only around a third of Senators are up for election.

The Constitution divides Senators into three classes - Classes I, II and III.

One class of senators will be up for election every two years.

In 2018 Class I Senators were elected.


Congressional Elections: Turnout

Congressional elections that are the same year as presidential elections have higher turnout.

Midterm turnout can be incredibly low - in 2014 turnout was 36.4%.

Voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election in comparison was 58.1%.



Incumbents are the members of Congress who have previously been elected to Congress and are looking to get re-elected.

There is an advantage to being an incumbent and running in an election - incumbents are more likely to get elected.

Over the last 50 years, incumbents have been reelected around 80% of the time.


Power of the incumbents

Incumbents are more recognised - they are likely to have greater name-recognition than their opponents, which means they don’t have to spend as much time on publicity.

Incumbents are more likely already to have donors, and so have a donor base that they can rely on to pay for running the campaign.

Incumbents can support policies in government, and help pass laws that attract swing voters, whereas their opponent cannot.

The power of the incumbent is a challenge to opponents who may need to spend more to reach voters.



The two major parties in Congress, the Democrats and the Republicans, have a major influence on how their members vote.

Party-line voting (when a congressperson votes according to what the party wishes), has increased since the 1970s, and now Congresspeople vote along party lines around 90% of the time.

The Democrats and the Republicans have become increasingly partisan, with little middle ground between their policies and little cooperation taking place between the two parties.


Party line voting

Party-line voting can mean that policies made are not bipartisan, as parties refuse to compromise and help make legislation in the middle ground.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by Democrats on the party line.

Party-line voting means that legislation passed during a Republican presidency or Congress is exclusively Republican, and is repealed or changed by the next Democrat president or Congress.

Some party-line voting comes at the cost of the wishes of the member’s constituency.



Caucuses are also known as Congressional Member Organizations.

A congressional caucus is a group of representatives that meets to decide which legislation they wish to support as a group.

Groups that form are ones with a similar ideology, policy idea, or social factors such as race and ethnicity.

The House Freedom Caucus is affiliated with the Tea Party Movement and campaigns for smaller government.
The Congressional Black Caucus is made up of African-American members.



Members of the House are elected every two years, so must represent their constituents in government or face being defeated at an election.

During Congressional recesses, Congresspeople go to their states or districts and speak to constituents to gather opinions and help understand their issues.

When important votes are taking place, constituents can call, email and write letters to their representatives, which makes the representatives aware of the views of their state or district during the policymaking process.


Pressure groups

Pressure groups are organisations that wish to put pressure on key decision-makers in Congress to propose policies or vote in certain ways.

Pressure groups can influence campaigns and appointments by spending money on advertising and political campaigns.

For example, the US Chamber of Commerce campaigned for the confirmation of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.


Endorsing candidates

Pressure groups can endorse particular candidates and encourage people sympathetic to their cause to vote for them.

For example, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a group that represents gun manufacturers and pays for lobbyists in Congress. The NRA gives election candidates a ‘grade’ to show how pro-gun they are.

Pressure groups pay for lobbyists to influence decision-makers to support their issues.

Pressure groups can educate the public and generate publicity for an issue.



A lobbyist is an individual paid by a client, who contacts more than one elected official, spending at least 20% of their time lobbying for that client.

The “client” is the person, organisation, corporation etc that the lobbyist is trying to gain access and favourable policies for.

Industries, unions and companies pay for lobbyists in Congress.

Corporations spend more than public-interest groups and labour unions, spending around $2.6 billion a year on lobbying.


Types of lobbying

Lobbyists understand the legislative process, developments in legislation, and meet regularly with Members of Congress and their staff to argue the case for policies favourable to their client.

Lobbyists also engage in ‘indirect’ lobbying, helping to fundraise for a candidate and holding dinners and parties to help decision-makers and corporations or interest groups network.

Smaller groups may use ‘grassroots’ lobbying, such as by writing opinion articles in newspapers to get the attention of decision-makers.


Influence of lobbyists

The influence of lobbyists has increased in recent years.
Lobbying makes Congresspeople more aware of the issues facing a certain industry, company or union and makes them more likely to deal with the issues in policy.

This is likely to change how a Congressperson votes on a specific issue.

Lobbying can allow corporations and other groups access to decision-makers and favourable policies.

Northrop Grumman spent $176m lobbying, and in 2012 were awarded a contract with NATO to build drones.


Examples of lobbying

The US Chamber of Commerce.

The American Medical Association.

General Electric.