Mayhew; Congress: The Electoral Connection. 1974
What does Mayhew assume is the number one goal of Members of Congress (MCs)?
According to Mayhew, members of the congress of the United States of America are primarily motivated by their behavior to seek reelection. The pursuit of reelection greatly affects the way the make decisions and formulate public policy. Mayhew links the motivation of members of the congress to institutional and political structure and it has widespread applicability in the legislative world. Pursuit of reelection hinders the performance of the members of the congress. They seek to influence federal spending in their areas of jurisdiction, and they go out claiming credit for it through direct voter contact, press releases and the media for every dollar that is spent by the federal government in their constituencies. These actions are aimed at increasing their chances of getting reelected. The main reason for the publicity is psychological since voters value federal spending and the associated benefits as the creation of employment, economic development and advancement of infrastructure. Mayhew observed that there is a direct connection between the public gimmicks by the members of the congress and their chance of reelection. Members of the congress actively pursue their objective of reelection at the expense of delivering quality public services and implementing public policies. The single-minded pursuit of re-election by the members of the congress is detrimental to the public policy interest and only favors inefficiency and public growth. Mayhew established that members of the congress do not utilize political parties other than helping them to mobilize parties towards their reelection objective. When the members get to the congress, their attention towards political parties and political party agenda is diverted to playing to the public gallery, and they start engaging in useful activities that are electorally successful (Mayhew 2). In my opinion that is true, and I agree with it; the members of the congress are only interested in those issues that can play a role in their reelection.
According to Mayhew, what is the status of political parties? Why does Mayhew suggest we focus on individuals over parties?
According to Mayhew, candidates during elections do not attach much importance to political parties and that they only considered political parties as tools to mobilize votes. Once politicians got into the congress, party agendas did not change until the next elections. Politicians, once in congress engaged themselves in activities that they considered electrically relevant. Any party battles that existed during the elections are shelved, and members of the congress maintained strong relationships across political divide. To them, reelection was considered very important as opposed to the advancement of a political agenda. Mayhew considers the two-party system as weak. According to him, political parties are treated as governing instruments that can yield dividends for the government.
According to Mayhew, the intentions of political parties have been overestimated but he believes that more political parties can deliver with separation of powers. He argues that political parties in the United States of America plays a great role in promoting pluralist polity as witnessed in the ideologies of the two parties. According to him, umbrella parties have an umbrella character, especially in a country like the United States of America that believe in the ideologies of two-party system and that congressional elections are necessary because they help in determining ideological perspectives inside a party. Traditionally, political parties were considered to be the representatives of American public and guided by issues that are inherent to the public interests. Mayhew argues that political parties were supposed to represent the views of the public and public issues, but that has never been the case among the American polity and instead political parties have been taken to be vehicles of political reelection (Mayhew 11). In my opinion political parties are only used as vehicles of reelection and their relevance cease when that objective is realized.
According to Mayhew, marginal districts are those competitive districts where political winners are expected to get less than 60 percent of the total votes. Marginal districts have, over time, been decreasing with a high number of incumbent candidates getting reelected. The marginal districts bring some sense of responsiveness into the electoral system but in the modern electoral system, they are on the decline. Marginal districts are those districts that voters can lean in favor of any party at different times. Candidates in marginal districts often win by a narrow margin.
According to Mayhew, marginal districts can at times produce moderate politicians while sparking competitiveness among the political parties. These marginal districts do not exist in numbers and extremely relevant during elections.
The marginal districts are the congressional districts that are not firmly in the camp of one political party or on the other. The opposite of marginal districts are those districts are considered safe. Marginal districts are often identified by their victory percentages of 50 to 60 percent. In this case, when there is a strong effort by the challenger and a weak effort by the challenger or any swing against the party of the incumbent, there is a likelihood that the district will swing towards one camp. Marginal districts often account for much change in the membership of the congress. It has been argued that the congress is weak and vacillating and one that sways every political breeze. In marginal districts, the winner in the elections only garners a vote margin or more. Marginal districts often make the elections be important. Marginal districts are considered tight, and a sign of a vital capital that are serious party should wait for votes and not loyal to its leadership (Mayhew 59). Marginal districts play a great role in determining the reelection of the members of the congress as they are considered as swing votes.
What are the kinds of activities MCs engage in to accomplish their goal? Hint: There are three activities.
According to Mayhew, the priority of the Members of Congress sees reelection. For them to succeed in achieving this goal, they engage in the following three activities: Advertising, sales promotion and position taking. Regarding advertising, the Members of the Congress engage in efforts to disseminate their names among their constituents in such a way that will enable them to create a favorable impression, only in messages and little or no content on issues. They are motivated in building a brand image based on their personal qualities that place much emphasis on knowledge, experience, sincerity, responsiveness and concern. On credit claiming, members of congress act in a manner that generates belief that they are personally responsible for causing the government to act. This is aimed at shaping the mind of the voter to believe that a member can do pleasing things when kept in the office. The main reason behind this gimmick is to make the voters elect him to continue doing his pleasant work. The members of the congress also engage in position taking. They realize this by making judgmental decisions or anything that can convince the political actors. As position takers, the members of the congress act as only speakers and not doers. The electoral requirement is not based on whether or not they make good things happen, but whether they made pleasant judgmental decisions. The main goal of reelection can be achieved if they act based on the three principles, hence making them professional politicians and to motivate them to capture positions of power each time elections come up. Mayhew considers members of the congress as the single-minded seekers of reelection (Mayhew 74).
How do Senators’ and House Representatives’ activities differ, and why?
The congress is made up of two houses, the Senate and the House of representatives. House of Representatives are elected on a term of two years; the two year term is intended at making the members be accountable to the voters. House representatives hold the purse strings for the government and hence it should be made be accountable. The senators, on the other hand, are elected on a term of six years. The senate is aimed at checking on the House of Representatives. For this to be realized, the Senators should have a conservative constituency and a long office term in order to make it detached from any popular passions.
Members of House of Representatives mostly depend on the voters and are often compelled to anticipate such moment when their power stops. They are the mercy of the electorates as to when their power will end, or when their exercise of power will be reviewed. On the other hand, the senators with their high wisdom and its long period in power take their time to study on the legislative affairs and also to check on every new House of Representatives. The bills that are passed by the House of Representatives are sent to the congress for review. The institutional differences between the two houses of the congress are reflected in their level of responsiveness. Members of the House of Representatives often have to balance between electoral vulnerability and their legislative duties. The fact that both the senators and representatives are motivated by their wish to be reelected makes them engage in activities that are geared towards their activities of reelection (Mayhew 163).
What are the three structural units in Congress?
According to Mayhew, there are three structural units in the Congress; these are: Offices, committees and parties. All these are organized in a manner can meet electoral demands.
Capitol Hill offices: Mayhem posits that there are approximately 535 offices in the Capitol Hill with large staff salaries. The offices serve as campaign management offices and as political machines. The offices are allocated to all members irrespective of their seniority, parties or other qualifications. This hence offers comparative advantage to the incumbent members of the congress.
Committees: According there are 21 standing committees in the House of Representatives and seventeen in the Senate. There are 132 and 143 sub-committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. The committees are considered as avenues of credit claiming and position taking. Committees give members an opportunity to make position taking speeches. Committees identify members with particular and universal policy issues. Committees also permit division of labor that aids the congress; interest groups are interested in committee members and often offer support to these individuals during reelections. Committees are centers of lobbying and present the congress with an opportunity to achieve visible things hence making their credit-taking role easy.
Parties: Parties in the United States of America, among the congressmen are not important hence making parties weak. Members of the congress vote for their constituencies as opposed to party lines. Members therefore can, therefore, build their congressional career within any political party irrespective of their positions on issues; hence there is no need for third parties or independent parties. Parties are only important in times of partisan electoral swings and in activities that can change positions of members; parties are also important in lobbying of committee chairmanships. According to Mayhew, there are only divisions between Republicans and Democrats but not between members of the congress (Mayhew 109).
What are the three policy functions of MCs?
According to Mayhew, there are three functions of the members of the congress, these are: expressing public opinion, handling constituent requests and legislating and overseeing administration.
Expressing public opinion: The members of the congress are very effective in advocating policy opinions that are held by people of their respective constituencies. With the diverse opinions from the widespread constituencies, there is a high chance that given their sentiments will find an alternative voice somewhere. Members of the congress criticize the conduct of the executive without being constrained by the loyalties of their parties.
Handling constituent requests: Members of the congress are charged with the duty of dealing with grievances against officialdom hence allowing them to enhance their abilities of credit taking. There is, however, class bias in servicing the requests by the members of the congress. There is a situation where the rich or people who are well off economically have a chance of contacting their members of congress. Members of the congress receive several letters annually with several requests from their constituents.
Legislation and the overseeing administration: It is the individual duty for the members of the congress to pass legations and to check on the executive. The extent with which members of the congress mobilize voters, generate content and oversee implementation is based on the effect that it will have on their claim taking and position taking objectives. Members of the congress are motivated in the passage of the bills. Policy decisions that are motivated by credit-claiming and position-taking produce predictable and specific policy effects (Mayhew 180).
Mayhew, David R. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. Print.