A high-level overview of the forms that congressional elections take and the factors that influence their outcomes.
Congressional elections don’t garner as much attention as presidential elections, but they’re an important avenue for citizen engagement.
|caucus||A meeting in a voting precinct at which party members choose nominees for political office after hours of speeches and debates. Caucuses tend to promote the views of dedicated party members since participating requires a large time commitment.|
|closed primary||A primary election limited to registered members of a political party. For example, in a state with closed primaries, only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary to choose candidates for local, state, and national office.|
|general election||An election that decides which candidate will fill an elective office. General elections usually pit candidates from opposing parties against one another.|
|incumbency advantage||The tendency of incumbents (officials already holding a political office) to win reelection. Incumbents have advantages in media exposure, fundraising, and staffing.|
|midterm election||An election that takes place in the middle of a presidential term. Midterm elections tend to have much lower voter turnout than presidential elections and often result in the loss of congressional seats for the president’s party.|
|open primary||A primary election that is not limited to registered party members. For example, in a state with open primaries, independent voters or Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary to choose candidates for local, state, and national office.|
|presidential election||An election where candidates vie for the office of President of the United States. Held every four years, presidential elections tend to have a much higher voter turnout than midterm elections.|
|primary election||An election that decides which candidate a party will send on to a general election. Primary elections pit candidates from the same party against one another.|
Civic participation in a representative democracy — Decisions made at the local and state level concerning the form that primaries will take, which nominees for office proceed to general elections, and which party controls Congress have far-reaching consequences for the composition of US government.
One major factor influencing the outcome of congressional elections is the advantage that incumbent candidates have over challengers; incumbents are typically much better funded and are better recognized by voters; plus, they participate in deciding the boundaries of voting districts.
Why is there lower voter turnout in midterm elections, and how does that affect election outcomes?
Why do incumbents win reelection so often?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of open primaries? What about closed primaries?