Are Members of Congress Simply ‘Single-Minded Seekers of Reelection’? An Examination of Legislative Behavior in the 114th Congress

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Technological innovations, most recently social media, have allowed members of Congress to incorporate campaign activities—particularly communicating with constituents and fundraising—into their daily routines (Smith, Roberts, and Vander Wielen Reference Smith, Roberts and Vander Wielen2015). Since campaigning occurs while legislators are at home and in Washington, their daily activities can often be characterized as governing-as-campaigning (Smith, Roberts, and Vander Wielen Reference Smith, Roberts and Vander Wielen2015). In other words, members of Congress simultaneously govern and campaign while in Washington. The substantial amount of time that members of Congress, especially those in the House of Representatives, spend campaigning leads some to question how much time is devoted to policy making (Klein Reference Klein2013; O’Donnell Reference O’Donnell2016). From the standpoint of political science research, there is a substantial body of work on how members of Congress pursue reelection and policy (Fenno Reference Fenno1973; Mayhew Reference Mayhew1974); however, little is known about how legislators balance campaigning and governing during their term.

Drawing upon my experiences as an APSA congressional fellow in the 114th Congress, I offer perspective on how members of Congress balance their reelection and policy goals. I begin by summarizing my placement and introducing Fenno (Reference Fenno1973) and Mayhew’s (Reference Mayhew1974) work on the electoral and policy goals of members of Congress. This research is then used as a framework to examine my work as a legislative staffer and present my perceptions of whether tradeoffs occur between reelection and policy making. I conclude by discussing the implications of governing-as-campaigning—legislators pursuing both goals simultaneously—and address directions for future research.

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PS: Political Science & Politics





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