A Call for Reform Elections for the United States Congress have become increasingly biased in favor of the incumbents. The problem is especially prevalent in the House of Representatives, which is designed to be the legislature closest to the people, and therefore most reflective of the people’s views. However, unlike elections for governors or presidents, the congressional races are generally not competitive races. While an incumbent president does have some advantages over a challenger, they are not guaranteed the win.
In fact, two of the last four presidents lost their bid for re-election, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush in 1992. However, in the last four House elections, on average, 92. 7% of the incumbents seeking re-election won (Vital Statistics on Congress).
There are many reasons for this trend in the House, and just as many possible solutions, but most are likely to fail.
However, if the House is to remain truly representative of the people and of the changing times, clearly something must be done. It is at first surprising that incumbents don’t always win in the Senate also. But this is not the case. The incumbent success rate since World War II is only 75% in the Senate, a much more reasonable number.
Because the Senate carries more prestige than the House, it is not surprising that Senate races would be more hotly contested. Most people who run for the Senate already hold a public office of some kind, or for some other reason have good name recognition. These two things explain the competition in the Senate, both candidates are generally competent representatives, and people are already familiar with them. However, most candidates running for a House seat do not have a prestigious political background. Because of this, a candidate must either have some other form of name recognition or have a lot of money to get it. Unfortunately, most people don’t have either of these, and this is why the House incumbents win 93% of the time.
The events that took place during the time the Whitlam Government was in office (1972-1975) were some of the most constitutionally challenging and controversial that Australian Politics had ever seen before, or since. After 23 years of Liberal Government, the people voted Labor and saw a massive change in policy, which was almost immediate. The Whitlam Government suffered a block in supply in 1974 ...
One possible solution to this problem, the one Americans are currently enacting, is to do nothing. While the incumbent success rate for re-election is extraordinarily high, there is still turnover in the House due to retirement for various reasons and losses in campaigns. For example, in the 1994 elections, 48 people retired and 38 incumbents were defeated in the election. This led to 86 new members of the 435 member House.
Yet the incumbent success rate was still 90. 2% (Vital Statistics).
However, I feel that the lack of competition in the elections is a problem in that it is not giving voters a fair chance to choose the best candidate. In the 1998 elections, 98% of those seeking re-election won.
I will not believe that 98% of those people holding office were better representatives than any other potential candidate in their respective districts. A second solution that is gaining support is term limits for congressmen. Almost half of the states currently have term limits on their governors or state legislatures. Most people in support of term limits feel that career politicians are bad for Americans, and enacting term limits would allow new, citizen based, ideas into Congress.
However, the problem with term limits is demonstrated in Fenno’s essay, “Learning to Govern.” In it, he shows the problems the 1994 Republican majority, with 73 newcomers, created for themselves as they held the majority for the first time in forty years. He believes that these problems such as their revolutionary Contract with America and the government shutdown of 1995 were caused by nothing more than inexperience in governing and interpreting an electoral victory. As an expert on Congress, Fenno believes that inexperience in Congress is not beneficial to anyone (Fenno).
By enacting term limits, this is exactly what we would be doing, increasing the amount of inexperience in Congress. While the idea of ordinary people being able to govern sounds good, in practice I feel it is better to have an experienced person making some of the most important decisions of the nation.
Review of Waiting for the Weekend In the opening chapter of Waiting for the Weekend, Witold Rybczynski analyzes free time. He explains the notion of five and two, and how the weekend is the most coveted time of the week. He explains how the weekend is more of a break from the regular week than free time. The five and two structure has affected leisure in the sense that we have a designated time to ...
The final two proposed solutions are the ones, when used together, that I feel would be most beneficial. These are public financing of campaigns and free air time for candidates. Currently the only candidates that have a chance of beating an incumbent are those with independent wealth or name recognition. Unfortunately, because it takes a lot of money to get name recognition, most people do not stand a fair chance of winning the election. Most contributors to campaigns, such as PAC’s, always give their money to the incumbent because they are the ones most likely to hold the power of the office in the future. So competing candidates don’t even have a fair shot at raising money.
This is why I feel that a combination of free air time and public financing should be provided to both candidates. The least amount of money needed to win a campaign by an unknown person is around $500, 000. If Missouri taxpayers were to fund just the House races for Missouri, this would cost at least 9 million dollars if there were just two candidates running in each of the nine districts. However, according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, more than half of the campaign costs in competitive races for Congress was spent on television (Free Air Time).
If these television channels were required to offer free air time for candidates, their campaign costs could be cut in half. Then, for instance, the state of Missouri would only have to guarantee each candidate $250, 000 and still be assured of more competitive campaigns. Further, also according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, providing free air time to candidates would cost broadcasters “less than one percent of gross annual ad revenues” (Free Air Time).
This would hardly bankrupt the companies, and they would be performing a civic duty by providing people with the information needed to make educated votes for the candidate who truly is the best. America is currently facing the problem of biased elections for the House of Representatives. The current trend is that incumbents almost always, 93% of the time, win re-election.
Poor air quality is the culprit for the consequences that are being suffered by many human and plant communities. Air pollution, smog, or acid rain; it may be called whatever you like, it is the effects that it is causing that are important. Although many people associate smog with Los Angeles, it is not the only area that has been effected by poor air quality. Many national parks, aquatic ...
Unfortunately without government intercession I don’t see any way of this trend reversing. While some people advocate doing nothing or imposing term limits, I feel these are the wrong solutions. I support that broadcast companies provide free air time to candidates and that the state governments ensure the financing of the major parties’ campaigns. In doing so, extraordinary people, with ordinary incomes and lives, will once again have an honest chance of representing the people of their district. That is, after all, what the House of Representatives was designed to do.
Works Cited Alliance for Better Campaigns. “Free Air Time.” URL: web. Accessed 15 November, 2000. Fenno, Richard F. “Learning to Govern.” In American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings, eds.
Allan J. Cig ler and Burdett A. Loomis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. 362-367. Vital Statistics on Congress.
1999-2000, Table, p. 57.