Congressional Elections: Crash Course Government and Politics #6
Articles Blog

Congressional Elections: Crash Course Government and Politics #6

October 26, 2019


Hi, I’m Craig and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics, and today we’re going to talk about what is, if you ask the general public,
the most important part of politics: elections. If you ask me, it’s hair styles. Look at Martin Van Buren’s sideburns, how
could he not be elected? Americans are kind of obsessed with elections,
I mean when this was being recorded in early 2015, television, news and the internet were
already talking about who would be Democrat and Republican candidates for president in
2016. And many of the candidates have unofficially been campaigning for years. I’ve been campaigning;
your grandma’s been campaigning. Presidential elections are exciting and you
can gamble on them. Is that legal, can you gamble on them, Stan? Anyway, why we’re so
obsessed with them is a topic for another day. Right now I’m gonna tell you that the fixation
on the presidential elections is wrong, but not because the president doesn’t matter.
No, today we’re gonna look at the elections of the people that are supposed to matter the
most, Congress. [Theme Music] Constitutionally at least, Congress is the
most important branch of government because it is the one that is supposed to be the most
responsive to the people. One of the main reasons it’s so responsive,
at least in theory, is the frequency of elections. If a politician has to run for office often, he or she,
because unlike the president we have women serving in Congress, kind of has to pay attention
to what the constituents want, a little bit, maybe. By now, I’m sure that most of you have memorized
the Constitution, so you recognize that despite their importance in the way we discuss politics,
elections aren’t really a big feature of the Constitution. Except of course for the ridiculously complex
electoral college system for choosing the president, which we don’t even want to think
about for a few episodes. In fact, here’s what the Constitution says about Congressional
Elections in Article 1 Section 2: “The House of Representatives shall be composed
of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors
in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous
branch of the state legislature.” So the Constitution does establish that the
whole of the house is up for election every 2 years, and 1/3 of the senate is too, but
mainly it leaves the scheduling and rules of elections up to the states. The actual
rules of elections, like when the polls are open and where they actually are, as well
as the registration requirements, are pretty much up to the states, subject to some federal
election law. If you really want to know the rules in your
state, I’m sure that someone at the Board of Elections will be happy to explain them to you. Really,
you should give them a call; they’re very, very lonely. In general though, here’s what we can say
about American elections. First stating the super obvious, in order to serve in congress,
you need to win an election. In the House of Representatives, each election
district chooses a single representative, which is why we call them single-member districts.
The number of districts is determined by the Census, which happens every 10 years, and
which means that elections ending in zeros are super important, for reasons that I’ll
explain in greater detail in a future episode. It’s because of gerrymandering. The Senate is much easier to figure out
because both of the state Senators are elected by the entire state. It’s as if the state
itself were a single district, which is true for states like Wyoming, which are so unpopulated
as to have only 1 representative. Sometimes these elections are called at large elections. Before the election ever happens, you need
candidates. How candidates are chosen differs from state to state, but usually it has something
to do with political parties, although it doesn’t have to. Why are things so complicated?! What we can say is that candidates, or at least
good candidates, usually have certain characteristics. Sorry America. First off, if you are gonna run for office,
you should have an unblemished record, free of, oh I don’t know, felony convictions or
sex scandals, except maybe in Louisiana or New York. This might lead to some pretty bland
candidates or people who are so calculating that they have no skeletons in their closet,
but we Americans are a moral people and like our candidates to reflect our ideals rather
than our reality. The second characteristic that a candidate
must possess is the ability to raise money. Now some candidates are billionaires and can
finance their own campaigns. But most billionaires have better things to do: buying yachts, making
even more money, building money forts, buying more yachts, so they don’t have time to run
for office. But most candidates get their money for their campaigns by asking for it.
The ability to raise money is key, especially now, because running for office is expensive.
Can I get a how expensive is it? “How expensive is it?!” Well, so expensive that the prices
of elections continually rises and in 2012 winners of House races spent nearly 2 million
each. Senate winners spent more than 10 million. By the time this episode airs, I’m sure the numbers
will be much higher like a gajillion billion million. Money is important in winning an election,
but even more important, statistically, is already being in Congress. Let’s go to the
Thought Bubble. The person holding an office who runs for
that office again is called the incumbent and has a big advantage over any challenger.
This is according to political scientists who, being almost as bad at naming things as
historians, refer to this as incumbency advantage. There are a number of reasons why incumbents
tend to hold onto their seats in congress, if they want to. The first is that a sitting congressman has
a record to run on, which we hope includes some legislative accomplishments, although
for the past few Congresses, these don’t seem to matter. The record might include case work,
which is providing direct services to constituents. This is usually done by congressional staffers
and includes things like answering questions about how to get certain government benefits
or writing recommendation letters to West Point. Congressmen can also provide jobs to
constituents, which is usually a good way to get them to vote for you. These are either
government jobs, kind of rare these days, called patronage or indirect employment through
government contracts for programs within a Congressman’s district. These programs are
called earmarks or pork barrel programs, and they are much less common now because Congress
has decided not to use them any more, sort of. The second advantage that incumbents have
is that they have a record of winning elections, which if you think about it, is pretty obvious.
Being a proven winner makes it easier for a congressmen to raise money, which helps
them win, and long term incumbents tend to be more powerful in Congress which makes it
even easier for them to raise money and win. The Constitution give incumbents one structural
advantage too. Each elected congressman is allowed $100,000 and free postage to send
out election materials. This is called the franking privilege. It’s not so clear how great an
advantage this is in the age of the internet, but at least according to the book The Victory Lab, direct
mail from candidates can be surprisingly effective. How real is this incumbency advantage? Well
if you look at the numbers, it seems pretty darn real. Over the past 60 years, almost 90%
of members of The House of Representatives got re-elected. The Senate has been even more
volatile, but even at the low point in 1980 more than 50% of sitting senators got to keep
their jobs. Thanks, Thought Bubble. You’re so great. So
those are some of the features of congressional elections. Now, if you’ll permit me to get
a little politically sciencey, I’d like to try to explain why elections are so important to the
way that Congressmen and Senators do their jobs. In 1974, political scientist David Mayhew
published a book in which he described something he called “The Electoral Connection.” This was
the idea that Congressmen were primarily motivated by the desire to get re-elected, which intuitively
makes a lot of sense, even though I’m not sure what evidence he had for this conclusion.
Used to be able to get away with that kind of thing I guess, clearly David may-not-hew to the
rules of evidence, pun [rim shot], high five, nope. Anyway Mayhew’s research methodology
isn’t as important as his idea itself because The Electoral Connection provides a frame
work for understanding congressman’s activities. Mayhew divided representatives’ behaviors
and activities into three categories. The first is advertising; congressmen work
to develop their personal brand so that they are recognizable to voters. Al D’Amato used
to be know in New York as Senator Pothole, because he was able to bring home so much
pork that he could actually fix New York’s streets. Not by filling them with pork, money,
its money, remember pork barrel spending? The second activity is credit claiming; Congressmen
get things done so that they can say they got them done. A lot of case work and especially pork barrel
spending are done in the name of credit claiming. Related to credit claiming, but
slightly different, is position taking. This means making a public judgmental statement
on something likely to be of interest to voters. Senators can do this through filibusters.
Representatives can’t filibuster, but they can hold hearings, publicly supporting a hearing
is a way of associating yourself with an idea without having to actually try to pass legislation.
And of course they can go on the TV, especially on Sunday talk shows. What’s a TV, who even
watches TV? Now the idea of The Electoral Connection doesn’t
explain every action a member of Congress takes; sometimes they actually make laws to benefit the public
good or maybe solve problems. Huh, what an idea! But Mayhew’s idea gives us a way of thinking
about Congressional activity, an analytical lens that connects what Congressmen actually do with how most
of us understand Congressmen, through elections. So the next time you see a Congressmen call
for a hearing on a supposed horrible scandal or read about a Senator threatening to filibuster
a policy that may have significant popular support, ask yourself, “Is this Representative
claiming credit or taking a position, and how will this build their brand?” In other
words: what’s the electoral connection and how will whatever they’re doing help them get
elected? This might feel a little cynical, but the reality is Mayhew’s thesis often seems
to fit with today’s politics. Thanks for watching, see you next week.
Vote for me; I’m on the TV. I’m not — I’m on the YouTube. Crash Course: Government and Politics is produced
in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from
Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use technology and media to advance social equity.
Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Voqal.org. Crash Course is made by all
of these nice people. Thanks for watching. That guy isn’t nice.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. we need term limits on congress. they limited the president to 8 years because power can get to your head but then we have some members in congress that have been their for 40 years, quite hypocritical if you ask me.

  2. I think this is the reason that American Politics don't change and are so corrupt, because nobody gives a damm about the house of representatives!!

  3. Constitution states – " Senate shall be chosen by the legislature therof. " are they reffering to a states representantives ?

  4. The way most Americans get so hyped over the president is really beyond me. Essentially, the executive office can't do anything without the approbation of congress. The president can't even choose his own administration without the consent of the Senate. They can deny him the privilege to even have an administration. Even his "veto power" is a distortion. If the President veto's a proposed bill, Congress can vote between its two houses and still pass the bill as law with the endorsement of two-thirds of each house. This clearly tells us where all the power resides. Probably the most salient power the President has is to grant reprieves and pardons. I would describe the President as mainly just a delegate of the state. Most American's focus is fixated on an inferior branch of the government via the President. The focus should definitely be on the law makers of the country.

  5. Confirmed: yes, you can gamble on the presidential elections https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/heres-how-to-legally-gamble-on-the-2016-race/2016/03/28/14397dde-f1dc-11e5-85a6-2132cf446d0a_story.html?utm_term=.b32a08fdd0ee

  6. "when this was being recorded in 2015 people were already talking about the upcoming election" if only they knew what was coming…..

  7. ya too bad America doesn't vote for independence from other countries in their politics. way too many non-Americans with their hands in choosing America's representatives in 2017. look at the recent elections and why they were elected. people are too afraid of hurting another country's feelings when an official is elected in America now. many of these people don't have America's best interests at heart when they are manipulating these elections. for some reason Americans have forgotten about the Revolutionary War of 1776 and how America is an INDEPENDENT country free to make its decisions without the threat of other countries telling Her what to do in elections

  8. Martin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-BurensMartin Van Side-Burens

  9. Never forget how much dough We the People can pool to support a grassroots candidate! That way, they listen to us, and not the rich jerks who want to frack yer grandma's yard. 👀

  10. Well, according to anyone currently in office, you can have a sex scandal and still get elected. Unless you’re Roy Moore

  11. "Because unlike the president we have women serving in congress…"

    >Identity politics mini meltdown.

  12. Why don’t you stop the tomfoolery and get down to brass tacks. Its really annoying when someone wants a piece of information they have to go through your circus!

  13. Many many many Americans could benefit from brushing up on history and politics. We'd be a lot better off if people would inform themselves before they vote. But no we live in a world where people vote based on superficial attributes. He's speaks well, he's handsome, she's hot, oh he's funny, but is he/she a tyrant? Most don't care. It's a popularity contest anymore

  14. Here we go again. Americans had the chance to stop this imbecile and they made him stronger. Dumb uneducated Americans kept Trump in control of the Senate. So now we are going to get more lies, more hateful rhetoric and more shootings. Very stupid move America! You had your chance.

  15. If you guys want to enjoy my comment,better get my comments translated in English from Hindi(From India),ok
    वोटर और गधा
    एक नेता वोट माँगने के लिए एक बूढ़े आदमी के पास गया । और उनको 2000/- रुपये का नोट पकड़ाते हुए कहा, "बाबा जी, इस बार वोट मुझे दें।"
    बाबा जी ने कहा, बेटा मुझे पैसे नही चाहिए। वोट चाहिए तो एक गधा खरीद के ला दो!
    नेता को वोट चाहिए था, वो गधा ढूँढने निकला। मगर कहीं भी 20,000/- से कम क़ीमत पर कोई गधा नही मिला। तो वापस आकर बाबा जी से बोला, मुनासिब क़ीमत पर कोई गधा नही मिला। कम से कम 20,000/- का एक गधा है। इसलिए मैं आपको गधा तो नहीं दे सकता।
    बाबा जी ने कहा, "बेटा, वोट माँग कर शर्मिंदा ना करो!"
    "तुम्हारी नज़र में मेरी कीमत गधे से भी सस्ती हैं! जब गधा 20,000/- से कम में नही बिका तो मैं तो इंसान हूँ 2000/- में कैसे बिक सकता हूँ ?
    जागो मतदाता जागो अपनी कीमत पहचानो ।

  16. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House & Maxine Waters as our Financial Head is horrifying. What idiots voted for these corrupt idiots?

  17. This clip has age like fine fine he basically described Trump without knowing we would be living this hell

  18. Hello! I hope you are well. I was wondering, what is the name of the 1974 book May Hughes presented? (I apologize if his name is written incorrectly).

  19. 1:28 The electoral system isn't that hard to understand (states muddy the process). What seems to be difficult is the reason for using the electoral college.

    Democrats currently want to do away with it (saying it is outdated). >.>

  20. The thing is members of congress don't have to be very responsive to voters if they live in safe districts and their only challenge is primaries where they have the incumbency advantage. Also, senators don't have to worry about doing stuff for reelection until the last 1 or two years before the election which I think is a good thing because it means they might think of the public good instead of reelection.

  21. old videos are so cute, I am sure PBS was all excited than, well from 2019 let me just say "make America great again 2020"

  22. The Presidential Term needs to be reformed to two 6 yr terms max. 4 years is not long enough for domestic AND foreign policy to have lasting effects. Presidential Election campaigns start within just 2 years of a result – and waste time and resources. Plus, campaigns are too long and too costly. So the campaigning time needs to be reduced drastically and set by law; and the amount that can be spent by, (or donated to), a campaign, needs to be reduced. And money paid to a President (and rest of Congress) needs to be drastically increased, to incentivize the very best talent from private sector to run for public office.

  23. Converting the world to Satan is all Democracy has ever been, whether Republicans or Democrats. The USA is of no favor to Heaven and is a food trained enemy of Love. The American marriage is in Satan for witness as Superior, not the love of The God of Christ. Islam said at the World Trade Towers detonation the "USA is Satan", at the time I doubted that. 20 years later as a Christian, those charges that Americans are Satan and the hand of Satan, those Charges are Sustained. Rome found Christ innocent in Caesar, the regional court of Drunks, USA, finds him Guilty to be Jews. signed as God is my witness, by Joseph Matthias Zao once a resident of Charlottesville now a resident of San Diego County, California submitted to the Senate and house as witness without duress. Friday September 13 at 9:37 Pacific time 12:38 New York Time It is illegal to pray for America. Words of Life are not the USA first Amendment or the intelligence of your employment. The USA is disease of Biblical proportion that with an open book, the USA is a subject of Satan sold to hell called "Democracy".

  24. The USA or United States of America is the "History of the Gypsy's" There is no substance to the body of America. I am 66 years old and I do not know 10 Americans by first and last name. What is Gypsy REAL ID nation if not Americans? The front page of a US Newspaper is not really "Headlines" is it?

  25. Government finally makes sense! This is so much better than listening to a college professor giving a lecture for 3 hours! Thank you CrashCourse!

  26. The mind of VIRGINIA belongs in Hell with their State God, SATAN. They believe the United States of America 🇺🇸 is to put their life down and protect it.
    You can change the world with a word however you are wasting your life talking to them in reason or elevating language or hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *