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  • Hi, I'm Craig and this is Crash Course Government and Politics, and today we're going to talk

  • about what is, if you ask the general public, the most important part of politics: elections.

  • If you ask me, it's hair styles.

  • Look at Martin Van Buren's sideburns, how could he not be elected?

  • Americans are kind of obsessed with elections, I mean when this was being recorded in early

  • 2015, television, news and the internet were already talking about who would be Democrat

  • and Republican candidates for president in 2016. And many of the candidates have unofficially

  • been campaigning for years. I've been campaigning; your grandma's been campaigning.

  • Presidential elections are exciting and you can gamble on them. Is that legal, can you

  • gamble on them, Stan? Anyway, why we're so obsessed with them is a topic for another

  • day.

  • Right now I'm gonna tell you that the fixation on the presidential elections is wrong, but

  • not because the president doesn't matter. No, today we're gonna look at the elections

  • of the people who are supposed to matter the most, Congress.

  • [Intro]

  • Constitutionally at least, Congress is the most important branch of government because

  • it is the one that is supposed to be the most responsive to the people.

  • One of the main reasons it's so responsive, at least in theory, is the frequency of elections.

  • If a politician has to run for office often, he or she, because unlike the president we

  • have women serving in congress, kind of has to pay attention to what the constituents

  • want, a little bit, maybe.

  • By now, I'm sure that most of you have memorized the Constitution, so you recognize that despite

  • their importance in the way we discuss politics, elections aren't really a feature of the Constitution.

  • Except of course for the ridiculously complex electoral college system for choosing the

  • president, which we don't even want to think about for a few episodes. In fact, here's

  • what the constitution says about congressional elections in Article 1 Section 2:

  • "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the

  • people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications

  • requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature."

  • So the Constitution does establish that the whole of the house is up for election every

  • 2 years, and 1/3 of the senate is too, but mainly it leaves the scheduling and rules

  • of elections up to the states. The actual rules of elections, like when the polls are

  • open and where they actually are, as well as the registration requirements, are pretty

  • much up to the states, subject to some federal election law.

  • If you really want to know the rules in your state, I'm sure that somewhere, like the Board

  • of Elections, will be happy to explain them to you. Really, you should give them a call;

  • they're very, very lonely.

  • In general though, here's what we can say about American elections. First stating the

  • super obvious, in order to serve in congress, you need to win an election.

  • In the House of Representatives, each election district chooses a single representative,

  • which is why we call them single-member districts. The number of districts is determined by the

  • Census, which happens every 10 years, and which means that elections ending in zeros

  • are super important, for reasons that I'll explain in greater detail in a future episode.

  • It's because of gerrymandering.

  • The senate is much more easy to figure out because both of the state senators are elected

  • by the entire state. It's as if the state itself were a single district, which is true

  • for states like Wyoming, which are so unpopulated as to have only 1 representative. Sometimes

  • these elections are called at large elections.

  • Before the election ever happens, you need candidates. How candidates are chosen differs

  • from state to state, but usually it has something to do with political parties, although it

  • doesn't have to. Why are things so complicated?!

  • What we can say is that candidates, or at least good candidates, usually have certain

  • characteristics. Sorry America.

  • First off if, you are gonna run for office, you should have an unblemished record, free

  • of, oh I don't know, felony convictions or sex scandals, except maybe in Louisiana or

  • New York. This might lead to some pretty bland candidates or people who are so calculating

  • that they have no skeletons in their closet, but we Americans are a moral people and like

  • our candidates to reflect our ideals rather than our reality.

  • The second characteristic that a candidate must possess is the ability to raise money.

  • Now some candidates are billionaires and can finance their own campaigns. But most billionaires

  • have better things to do: buying yachts, making even more money, building money forts, buying

  • more yachts, so they don't have time to run for office. But most candidates get their

  • money for their campaigns by asking for it. The ability to raise money is key, especially

  • now, because running for office is expensive. Can I get a how expensive is it? "How expensive

  • is it?!" Well, so expensive that the prices of elections continually rises and in 2012

  • winners of House races spent nearly 2 million each. Senate winners spent more than 10 million.

  • By the time this episode airs, I'm sure the numbers will be much higher like a gajillion

  • billion million.

  • Money is important in winning an election, but even more important, statistically, is

  • already being in congress. Let's go to the Thought Bubble.

  • The person holding an office who runs for that office again is called the incumbent

  • and has a big advantage over any challenger. This is according to political scientists

  • who, being almost as bad at naming things as historians, refer to this as incumbency

  • advantage. There are a number of reasons why incumbents tend to hold onto their seats in

  • congress, if they want to.

  • The first is that a sitting congressman has a record to run on, which we hope includes

  • some legislative accomplishments, although for the past few congresses, these don't seem

  • to matter. The record might include case work, which is providing direct service to constituents.

  • This is usually done by congressional staffers and includes things like answering questions

  • about how to get certain government benefits or writing recommendation letters to West

  • Point. Congressmen can also provide jobs to constituents, which is usually a good way

  • to get them to vote for you. These are either government jobs, kind of rare these days,

  • called patronage or indirect employment through government contracts for programs within a

  • congressman's district. These programs are called earmarks or pork barrel programs, and

  • they are much less common now because Congress has decided not to use them any more, sort

  • of.

  • The second advantage that incumbents have is that they have a record of winning elections,

  • which if you think about it, is pretty obvious. Being a proven winner makes it easier for

  • a congressmen to raise money, which helps them win, and long term incumbents tend to

  • be more powerful in Congress which makes it even easier for them to raise money and win.

  • The Constitution give incumbents one structural advantage too. Each elected congressman is

  • allowed $100,000 and free postage to send out election materials. This is called the

  • franking privilege. It's not so clear how great an advantage is in the age of the internet,

  • but at least according to the book The Victory Lab, direct mail from candidates can be surprisingly

  • effective.

  • How real is this incumbency advantage? Well if you look at the numbers, it seems pretty

  • darn real. Over the past 60 years, almost 90% of members of the House of Representatives

  • got re-elected. The Senate has been even more volatile, but even at the low point in 1980

  • more than 50% of sitting senators got to keep their jobs.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble. You're so great. So those are some of the features of congressional

  • elections. Now, if you'll permit me to get a little politically sciencey, I'd like to

  • try to explain why elections are so important to the way that congressmen and senators do

  • their jobs.

  • In 1974, political scientist David Mayhew published a book in which he described something

  • he called the electoral connection. This was the idea that congressmen were primarily motivated

  • by the desire to get re-elected, which intuitively makes a lot of sense, even though I'm not

  • sure what evidence he had for this conclusion. Used to be able to get away with that kind

  • of thing I guess, clearly David may-not-hew to the rules of evidence, pun [rim shot],

  • high five, no. Anyway Mayhew's research methodology isn't as important as his idea itself because

  • the electoral connection provides a frame work for understanding congressman's activities.

  • Mayhew divided representatives' behaviors and activities into three categories.

  • The first is advertising; congressmen work to develop their personal brand so that they

  • are recognizable to voters. Al D'Amato used to be know in New York as Senator Pothole,

  • because he was able to bring home so much pork that he could actually fix New York's

  • streets. Not by filling them with pork, money, its money, remember pork barrel spending?

  • The second activity is credit claiming; congressmen get things done so they can say they got them

  • done. A lot of case work and especially pork barrel spending are done in the name of credit

  • claiming. Related to credit claiming, but slightly different, is position taking. This

  • means making a public judgmental statement on something likely to be of interest to voters.

  • Senators can do this through filibusters. Representatives can't filibuster, but they

  • can hold hearings, publicly supporting a hearing is a way of associating yourself with an idea

  • without actually having to pass legislation. And of course they can go on the TV, especially

  • on Sunday talk shows. What's a TV, who even watches TV?

  • Now the idea of the electoral connection doesn't explain every action a member of Congress

  • takes; sometimes they actually make laws to benefit the public good or maybe solve problems,

  • huh, what an idea! But Mayhew's idea gives us a way of thinking about congressional activity,

  • an analytical lens that connects what congressmen actually do with how most of us understand

  • congressmen, through elections.

  • So the next time you see a congressmen call for a hearing on a supposed horrible scandal

  • or read about a senator threatening to filibuster a policy that may have significant popular

  • support, ask yourself, is this Representative claiming credit or taking a position, and

  • how will this build their brand? In other words, what's the electoral connection and

  • how will whatever their doing help them get elected? This might feel a little cynical,

  • but the reality is Mayhew's thesis often seems to fit with today's politics.

  • Thanks for watching, see you next week. Vote for me; I'm on the TV. I'm not -- I'm on the

  • YouTube.

  • Crash Course: Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS digital studios. Support

  • for Crash Course US Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports nonprofits that use

  • technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives

  • at Voqal.org. Crash Course is made by all of these nice people. Thanks for watching.

  • That guy isn't nice.

Hi, I'm Craig and this is Crash Course Government and Politics, and today we're going to talk

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國會選舉。政府和政治速成班#6 (Congressional Elections: Crash Course Government and Politics #6)

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