The powers bestowed on the Senate and the House of Representatives brings balance in the rule of the legislators. It is critical to understand that these legislators are also politicians who belong to political parties. Like in any political environment, elections are part of the system. This book allows the reader to engage in a systematic account of the proceedings of congressional elections. Furthermore, the book shows the way electoral politics mold and replicate other founding concepts present in this political system. The book explains upcoming electoral trends that appear with the approach of every election season, in addition to the impeachment politics that had taken place two years prior to the turn of the millennium. Through the intense content of the book, the reader understands the strength, weaknesses, and balancing points of the reigning political parties, as represented by the politicians in the two Houses.
In order to tackle various issues arising in congressional elections, the author has divided his work into three main segments. These are the individual, district, and aggregate segments. According to Jacobson, congressional election affects individuals, as seen in the individual’s willingness to vote or lack thereof. The variances between the states and the districts appear under his discussion about the district. There are variances in the general representation of a nation. This includes party balances and other changes that constantly take place between one general election and another. Every chapter in the book discusses an important topic that further expands on the sections mentioned. There is an explanation on congressional elections institutional and legal affairs, theories at the district level, theories at an individual’s level, theories at the national level, and the impact of these theories as far as democratic governance is concerned. The discussion of these issues takes place in the second through seventh chapters of the book, respectively.
According to the author, a link is present between the election of the Congress and the institution’s capabilities and politics. Jacobson refers to these linkages as “interconnections between them”, as seen from “different perspectives”. In emphasizing legal and institutional context, the author explains that, during the 1920s, there were four hundred and thirty five members comprising the House. As the next decade began, some members were expected to lose their places due to the decennial reapportionment. However, before the beginning of 1930, additions were recognized in the seats. Although the parties seem intact, candidates today have become more significant versus a party than they were in the past years. This is due to the growth of primaries. In addition, states and districts differ in a number of ways, including political habits, age, ethnicity, communications, wealth, economic base population, and size.
The author has noted the presence of a “fundamental flaw in the kind of representation produced by electoral politics.” He further explains that these fundamental flaws include “great collective irresponsibility,” as much as there is individual responsiveness. The candidates have an incumbency advantage since they are at the centre of the political system. The author has expounded on this issue in the third chapter of the book. The candidates award themselves this incumbency advantage. Most of them take this opportunity to claim credit for something and advertise themselves. It is through this advantage that candidates accumulate large staff, free mails, free district trips, and constituency service. It is through these actions that a candidate is able to strengthen the expansion and protection stages of his career.
In order to minimize the candidates’ exploitation of the opportunities at their disposal, some measures were taken. In 1946, a Legislative Reorganization Act was put in place. This mostly affected those already in the House of the Representatives. After the reinforcement of this Act, “no senator [would] serve on more than two standing committees, except that majority part Senators may also serve on the District of Columbia and the Expenditures committees”. The Act further stated a member of the House would only serve on one committee. This is unlike the past where members could serve on three to five committees. Like in any other act, there were exceptions to this one as well. In the same year, Senator Taft called for a resolution (Resolution 24), which would allow a total of thirteen to fifteen members of each committee, as opposed to the usual eight. This would allow an additional eight minority senators.
Jacobson expands on the money issue and its role in the congressional elections. In his work, the author states that the concentration of money in open and weak seats increases with time. A strong incumbent keeps the candidate intact and thus money is not influential. The incumbents are known to spend more money when the competition is high, as compared to other times. On the other hand, money is of great help to the challengers. In order to acquire a ten percent winning chance, the challengers may have to spend $500,000. It is crucial to understand why the challengers participate, even though their winning chances are limited. To some extent, they take part in these activities because they overestimate their chances and they are weak. On another level, they are aware that if it was a weak incumbent, they would not prevail in their primaries. Due to this, failing to succeed in a general election would be the price to pay for their primary victory.
As identified, there is a lot of power in money from the campaign period right into the House. Due to this, a number of measures were taken in order to minimize the influence of these external powers. The Legislative Leviathan states that “just like members of other cartels, members of majority parties face continual incentives to ‘cheat’ on the deals that have been struck”. As earlier stated, by 1949, the Committee Majority was five percent less than the House of Majority. Such measures would bring a sense of balance and create a productive seniority atmosphere. It settled the appointment of committee chairpersons, a process that could be otherwise cumbersome if mishandled.
In the fourth chapter of the book, Jacobson analyzes congressional campaigns. Most, if not all, political action committees (PAC) contribute to the incumbents in the Republican and the Democratic parties. These PACs are corporate and labor committees. They do this in order to make friends in the Republican and the Democratic parties. However, they only contribute to a challenger belonging to one party. Due to the nature of the incumbents and challengers, PACs sometimes aim for two goals. Challengers’ interests are in the position because they want a change in some moral issues. On the other hand, the incumbents’ interests are in the position because they want the benefits that come with the position. In summary, a committee will associate with an incumbent regardless of his/her personality and it will associate with a challenger for their moral standing. In both ways, the committee will not lose.
Parties make limited contributions towards a candidate’s campaign. This includes making limited coordinated payments in place of the candidate. Parties can carry out this task by purchasing airtime, polls, and advertisements. However, parties do not limit themselves to money contribution. They also offer assistance, advice, and training. Candidates do their campaigns by having personal contact with the voters and through the media. Jacobson further explains that voter education is the most crucial during this period. Voter education takes place with the exception of making incentives for particular candidates.
Krakauer and Junger write about the disasters encountered by people who were in places that they would least expect help (mountaintop and the middle of the sea storm). In these two stories, the characters compete to save their own lives. In some cases, such as in Krakauer’s story, the characters’ actions led to their destruction. This was partly caused by the lack of good leadership (especially in Krakauer’s case), as most characters were more interested in winning rather than leading. Jacobson strongly states that the nation should have a strong presidential leadership. In his words, “the Congress is…incapable of providing leadership”. Polsby emphasizes that institutionalizing a political system is extremely significant for it to be viable in any manner of performing any task. Due to such systematical presence, the voters must be aware of themselves. This is discussed in the fifth chapter of the book.
In the United States, the author feels that the voters are the educated and the wealthy. In most cases, voters execute their right to vote less in the mid-term years than they do in the presidential years. Due to this tendency, there are parties that decline during the mid-term even though they had a surge in the presidential year. One may predict a candidate’s victory or loss based on the candidate’s party. However, defection is very common in these scenarios. Mayhew emphasizes that the eventualities of having defections allows committees to prefer incumbents even more than challengers. If one incumbent defects, the committee can always continue with another incumbent they have invested in.
Through a keen observation, Jacobson states that defections occur frequently in the Senate races. This is because the Senate challengers have high quality contenders and the challengers are highly supported financially, as compared to the rest. In this case, the House incumbents are more advantageous as compared to their challengers. On the other hand, the Senate incumbents do not have such an advantage. The exposure of the House challengers is boosted by a campaign’s spending. However, this spending does not give them the level of recognition received by the incumbents. Unfortunately, a candidate cannot use incumbency alone to attract voters. The voters’ main interest lies in a candidate. Mayhew states that voters are responsive to advertisements, position-taking, and credit-claiming. These represent contact and familiarity, specific and general policy agreements, and district and personal services, respectively. The voters like and know the winning challengers. This is because their victory does not come by talking ill about the other incumbents.
Congressional control trends, presidential approval, and economic conditions are all related. This is because the candidates embark on a race when they are sure they have better chances of winning. When an incumbent party faces limited presidential approval or bad economic situations, one can get high quality candidates. Coattails characterize effects that are nontrivial and real. As in the above situation, better candidates take part in the race when they feel that their chances of winning are high. Additionally, candidates critically observe split-ticket voting. As Jacobson reviews the Senate and the House races spreading across the past two decades, he establishes that congressional control needs strong challengers and potent issues. The potent issues include presidential approval and economic conditions.
In chapter seven of the book, the author states that “how members win and hold office powerfully affects” diverse issues in relation to the governance of the House of Congress. In analyzing the impact of congressional performance and electoral politics, the author states that one of the effects is policy congruence. Although it is reasonably good, it is not easy to measure. If the representatives are well chosen, they become a voice for the entire country. This is most evident in matters pertaining to pro-life, black-rights, homosexual, transgender, and bisexual rights, amongst others. There are specific policies which deal with the local as opposed to the national issues. The policies are also in favor of the organized interests. There is a response given to the district without making it a national responsibility.
In reforming the Congress, the idea of term limits was brought forth. Although it is a good strategy of controlling the leader in such powerful positions, it also paves way for the pursuit of selfish interests during one’s last term. The people are in need of experiencing democracy, instead of witnessing it. This book identifies that there are plans, strategies, and calculated risks taken by legislatures and other bodies before, during, and after the congressional elections. However, Congress needs to be more than an agreement-making institution. Otherwise, the public will only see it as an institution that serves a few while sacrificing the majority. It needs to act in accordance with the spirit of good citizenship and governance. Like in other countries, parties are more regional than they are national. The Republican followers are in the Mountain West, South and the Plains. The Democrat followers occupy the Coasts and the Northeast. However, this dominance should not be cherished at the expense of a nation.