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Congressional behavior: lesson overview

A number of factors affect the behavior of members of Congress, including election processes, partisanship, and divided government. Most members of Congress seek to be reelected by their constituents, which can affect their voting behavior and the issues they devote time to while in office.
Partisan divisions within Congress may result in legislative gridlock, or lead to increased negotiation and compromise. Likewise, divided government between the legislative and executive branches can give rise to partisan standoffs, such as congressional refusal to approve presidential appointments or to vote for presidential initiatives. Congressional redistricting to favor one party over another, or gerrymandering, is motivated by partisanship and can also further entrench it.

Pojęcia kluczowe

gridlockWhen the government is unable to reach compromises or make policy decisions.
partisanA firm supporter of one political party.
redistrictingThe process of adjusting electoral districts in the United States.
gerrymanderingThe act of changing the boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party over another.
divided governmentWhen one party controls one or more houses in the legislative branch while the other party controls the executive branch.
'lame duck'An elected official who continues to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of their successor.
trusteeA member of Congress who takes into account the views of their constituents and use their own judgment to decide how to vote.
delegateA member of Congress who always follows their constituents’ voting preferences.
politicoA member of Congress who acts as a delegate on issues that their constituents care about, and as a trustee on issues that their constituents don’t care about.

Key cases to know

Baker v. Carr (1961) — The Court ruled that Tennessee had acted unconstitutionally by not redistricting since 1901; establishing both the "one-person, one-vote" principle - that districts should be proportionately represented - and that the Court had jurisdiction to review state redistricting issues.
Shaw v. Reno (1993) — This case established that although legislative redistricting must be conscious of race and comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it cannot exceed what is reasonably necessary to avoid racial imbalances.

Pytanie sprawdzające

How does redistricting affect the behavior of members of Congress?
What are the differences between a congressperson acting like a trustee and a congressperson acting like a delegate?
How might ideological differences in Congress slow down the policymaking process?

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